Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Column: Don't mess with success in fisheries management

This red snapper was caught in the gulf about 65 miles off Florida’s coast. Stocks would suffer if three other states extend their state waters.
Published Mar. 1, 2016

Under federal fisheries management, red snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico are recovering and the boating and fishing industries have grown. But on Thursday, a U.S. Senate committee will hear a proposal that could gut a decade of recovery and growth for both. The idea floated by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., would create a piecemeal system by extending the state waters of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi from 3 miles to 9. In addition, his plan would loosen some of the stronger tenets of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act — like science-based rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits.

The other gulf states' gains would be Florida's loss, particularly for anglers in the Tampa Bay area who must travel at least 30 miles offshore to find 60-foot waters where the red snapper population flourishes. In effect, those other three states' extensions would create enough extra state-water fishing pressure that the stock's rebound would be imperiled. To keep the fish populations from plunging, the government would have to severely limit the number of days for fishing in federal waters. As a practical matter, Florida fishermen would have far fewer days to catch snapper.

On Thursday, Vitter will argue before the Senate Small Business Administration Committee that the 3-mile limits hurt small coastal businesses across the gulf that rely on healthy fish populations and liberal access to them. He is wrong. And as a small boat dealership and marina owner, I know something about this.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the gulf red snapper catch has rebuilt from 5 million pounds in 2007 to more than 14 million in 2014. Not to mention, Vitter's arguments fly in the face of the American Sportfishing Association's economic reports, which suggest the Southeast has a healthy fishing population and an even healthier fishing industry.

His argument is based on a flawed narrative by fishery rights groups that claim short federal-water red snapper seasons are hurting industry growth and that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is broken. But here's what is really going on: These groups are part of a growing national move by the states to take public natural resources from federal stewardship and pass them to the states. Think of the fiasco of the armed occupation of the Oregon Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — but in flip-flops and sunglasses.

The problem is, red snapper don't respect state boundaries, and the gulf fishery is bigger than any one state. It takes a big-picture view to manage it appropriately.

Vitter's narrative threatens Florida's saltwater fishing industry that, according to the ASA's Sportfishing in America, supports more than 65,000 jobs with an annual retail sales base of $3.9 billion. This is a huge economic driver for Florida, and these jobs and retail sales are complemented by attracting a robust and vibrant fishing tourism industry that draws more than 1.2 million anglers annually, resulting in out-of-state tourism spending that nudges a $1 billion a year.

For the gulf region, even more telling is our ability to buck national trends of decreasing fishing license sales; excepting Mississippi, all other gulf states enjoyed increased license sales from 2004 through 2013, the last year registered in the report. How do these numbers reflect a burden on small business, when the economics and participation trends suggest otherwise?

Vitter's proposal is an attack on public federal natural resources and threatens Florida's economic health and Florida gulf anglers. But more frightening for me, the senator's proposal carries the real threat to inject an undue level of chaos into a stable fishery management system that will trickle down to uncertainty in Florida's boating, fishing and tourism industries.

Brad Kenyon is an avid angler who has served on fishery advisory panels to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. He owns and operates Boat and Motor Superstores in Tarpon Springs. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Sarah Rumschlag and her son Henry Rumschlag, 7, of St. Petersburg march during the science rally and march at Poynter Park in St. Pete. KAIJO, CHARLIE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Friday’s letters to the editor.
  2. The line for free HIV testing during the Pinellas County World AIDS Day event at Williams Park in St. Petersburg. LUKE JOHNSON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The state has mishandled the epidemic in the past, but lawmakers can get it right now. | Column
  3. The Florida Power & Light solar facility is seen in Arcadia. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Help the markets determine winners in the renewables the Sunshine State needs. | Column
  4.  Jim Morin -- MorinToons Syndicate
  5. Noah McAdams, 3, has leukemia, and his parents didn't want to go along with the chemotherapy his doctors prescribed. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
    The state acted correctly by interceding on behalf of Noah McAdams, a 4-year-old leukemia patient.
  6. Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year. MARKUS SCHREIBER  |  AP
    The billionaire also talks trade with China in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
  7. Editorial cartoon for Thursday from Times wire services LISA BENSON  |  Washington Post Syndicate
  8. Yesterday• Opinion
    Plumes of steam drift from the cooling tower of FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio. RON SCHWANE  |  AP
    Thursday’s letters to the editor
  9. Nearly three dozen trees were cut down at a half-abandoned trailer park along Gandy Boulevard in August, enraging tree advocates and sparking another battle between the city of Tampa and a new state law that removes local government authority over tree removal. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    The Florida Legislature made it easier for residents to cut down trees without permission from local government. Now everybody wants to do it.
  10. Editorial cartoons for Wednesday from Times wire services Andy Marlette/Creators Syndicate
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement