Dear TBF Friends,
The Office of Highly Migratory Species (NMFS), a division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), charged with conserving and responsibly managing highly migratory fish species reversed 16 years of conservation with their approval of an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) on August 10, 2017. The permit will allow pelagic longline boats back into the east coast closed zone to fish. Sixteen years ago the same agency closed the zone to protect juvenile swordfish, billfish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and sharks; now the boats will kill and sell the conservation benefits. Unbelievable!
The government maintains that the research is “to collect data”, data that confirms the obvious – closing an area to longline gear for 16 years will allow fish stocks and fishing to improve. The project’s rationale is more threatening as it holds that “if the conservation goals of the time-area closures have been achieved, then these closures should be reopened to the fishery.” This means that if the bureaucrats feel the “experimental research” is successful, the whole east coast closed zone will likely be opened for longline fishing throughout. There is no reason to think the closed zone in the Gulf of Mexico will not be subject to the same illogical decision making in the near future.
Even opposition from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission could not get the respect or attention of NMFS in this decision. Most everyone in the recreational fishing community and industry strongly opposed the permit, but that likewise made no difference. It was the few bureaucrats in the HMS Office and friends who decided it was a good idea and approved the permit for a favored scientist, who has received $747,811.00 in NOAA/NMFS grant money since 2007. In this case, the “experimental research” did not come with a government grant; rather the expenses are to be covered by the sale of the fish landed from inside the zone. Anglers and members of the industry should be irate at the NMFS/HMS Office for their disrespect; their priorities and preferences need broadening.
In addition, the new leader of NMFS, Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator (AA), just stepped into the job with the endorsement of at least 150 commercial fishing organizations. In his first message to constituents he said he is an angler and looked forward to “working with us all.” With the huge commercial fishing endorsement, his words ring empty and his concurrence in approving the EFP seems to confirm the lack of sincerity.
How can a government regulatory agency completely disregard the voice of a large industry? Florida has more anglers than any other state in the nation, 2.4 million in fact, not to mention all of the tourists who come to Florida to fish, and the associated industry generates an economic impact of $7.6 billion dollars (2015/16) supporting 109,300 jobs. These contributions received no priority consideration.
The hypocrisy of the situation is blatant as the permitted scientist, along with the owner of many of the longline boats that will fish in the zone, were part of a CNN interview in 2012, in which they made the argument that longlining was not a clean gear and should be replaced by buoy gear. The very scientist and longline boat owner in that CNN piece are now the ones who requested and received the permit. They can now sell the conservation benefits from the zone.
We are working tirelessly to halt the expanding use of longlines in protected, ecologically important zones, but we need your help to contact all of your elected officials like your Senators and Representatives in Congress, specifically in Florida. For your convenience, we have a readymade template on our website to contact them.
To further support us in continuing to fight for billfish and associated species at the national and international levels, make a donation to our foundation and become a member of TBF. Your contribution is imperative in ensuring we continue to be a voice for these fish, the sportfishing community, and for the smart policies that are so lacking for the fish we love.
Ellen M. Peel
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