Saturday, June 7, 2008

A New Coalition?

It appears that recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen have learned to get along. It seems that proposed changes in grouper regulations have brought these former adversaries together. From the St. Petersburg Times

"The feds would cut up the pie, leave one little piece for the fishermen and say, 'Here you go, fight over it,' " said Dennis O'Hern of the newly formed Gulf Partnership for Marine Fisheries. "But we've wised up. Instead of working against each other to pick through the scraps, we are going to join forces and get a bigger piece of the pie."

O'Hern, the driving force behind the Fishing Rights Alliance, and Bob Spaeth, the voice of the Southern Offshore Fishing Association, began their dialogue two years ago when they shared a ride from the airport to a meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in Texas.

It appears that the Gulf Partnership will be funding independent scientists to do separate analysis on some Gulf fisheries. They pooled resources this year and funded a biologist to review proposed regulations on gag grouper. This contributed to the Gulf Council putting proposed rules on hold.

"The Magnuson Stevenson Act says that the 'best available science' needs to be used when making any management decision," O'Hern said. "But it doesn't say that the 'best available science' has to come from the National Marine Fisheries Service."

This seems like an interesting situation, since recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen have not traditionally played well together. I am curious how this will impact future fisheries management decisions. I have done some work with NMFS in the past and think very highly of the people I worked with. Of course, I am an economist by training, so I did not have any real interaction with many of the biologists. Is there really this much uncertainty over some of the stock assessments done by NMFS biologists or is this an example of a powerful coalition blocking proposed actions, even if those actions do not represent the best interests of the fishery at large? Possibly a little bit of both? I would love to hear some different peoples' opinions on the issue since I am by no means an expert on stock assessments or this fishery.

Hat Tip:Ahab's Journal


shineeyegirl said...

The "best available science" standard in Magnuson leaves the door wide open for the use of shoddy data in fishery management plans. There are no minimum standards, no definition, for "best available." In many cases, peer reviews of stock assessments cite the data deficiencies, but even non-representative or questionable data can meet the "best available" standard. The NC state fisheries agency has said, more than one time, that the data used by NMFS is not up to the quality of the data used by NC. NMFS needs to redirect its focus and pump more money into the collection of basic biological and socioeconomic information. Last I heard NMFS spends something like 90 percent of its budget on personnel - that leaves a woefully inadequate amount for data collection projects.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody see the utter hypocrasy here? O'Hearne demonizes commercial fishermen for years accusing them of shamelessly raping the ocean. And now, to advance his own agenda, he is partnering up with Bob Spaeth - the same long liner that O'Hearne used to feature on his website as public enemy number one. The worst part about the whole thing is that both of them are more concerned about getting "more of the pie" than they are the future of the resource. I may not like all fishing regs, but I at least recognize the need to protect the resource first.

shineeyegirl said...

Politics can make for strange bedfellows. For a very long time, most high-profile recreational fishing organizations routinely dismissed the concerns over the quality of the data used in assessments. Perhaps the thinking was that the commercial sector made a nice target, shielding recreational fishermen.
But now it's become clear, especially with annual catch limits coming for all species and with accountability measures that will hold the recreational sector's feet to the fire too, that the national standards relating to the impacts of regulations on fishermen and fishing communities carry little weight.
As far as the commercial sector goes, the promise of realizing benefits at some point down the road in the future is a hollow promise. For one thing, quotas for species in the South Atlantic are being systemically turned over to the recreational sector. For another, fishermen in NC average around 50 years in age, and very few young people are entering the fishery. Infrastructure is collapsing too. Not all of this has happened because of regulations but it's hard to deny that things like limited access and closed fishing seasons have played a role. If more consideration isn't given to the socioeconomic impacts on wild harvesters, nothing will be left.
But in any case, it's probably healthy for these two groups to hire a scientist to work the numbers. "The lesson .... offers is that free society must be a skeptical one, that rigorous questioning and dissent protect, rather than subvert, our freedoms."