In the News
Mar 20 2012
Rep. Steve Southerland, II
Growing up on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, there were always certain constants in the Southerland household. Among those were faith, family, and–of course–fishing.
As a child, I would climb into the family boat with my father and siblings and head for Panama City’s St. Andrew’s Pass and the deep waters just off the coast. After spending all day in the sun on a rocking boat reeling in fish, we looked forward to cleaning our catch and laying a few snappers on the grill for dinner.
Years later, I have enjoyed sharing this tradition with my four daughters, as well as my nieces and nephews. I look forward to one day sharing this natural and wholesome way of life with my future grandchildren. However, the freedom to enjoy this lifestyle is at risk like never before.
The Gulf region has been blessed with a renewable resource of food and recreation that has helped build our communities and strengthen our local economy. In fact, recreational fishing generates more than $200 million annually for the coastal counties that provide access to offshore fishing on our natural and artificial reefs.
Sound fisheries management is essential to ensure that we can continue to have access to these job-creating resources. Unfortunately, what we have today is not good fisheries management. Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2006 did not give us the flexibility to access fish stocks while they are being rebuilt.
Making matters worse, we are dealing with unreliable science that attempts to determine the universe of fish and count the fish that recreational anglers catch. “Fatally flawed” is the term used by the National Research Center to describe the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS). Congress mandated that the survey be replaced in 2009.
As we continue to wait for NOAA and NMFS to comply, we have seen the commercial fleet reduced by half and the year round recreational red snapper season cut in half initially, and then reduced annually until last year’s anemic 48 day season. Shortened seasons have led to bigger fish, and bigger fish have led to more shortened seasons. The Gulf Council is now threatening a 40 day season – all based on unreliable surveys. Our coastal communities simply cannot afford another reduction in the red snapper season.
In breathtaking fashion, Washington bureaucrats have launched a concerted effort to conquer our coastlines. One of the greatest threats facing Gulf and Atlantic fisheries today is catch shares. By capping the amount of fish to be caught annually and gifting a select few with shares of the annual catch, NOAA is privatizing access to a once open fishery.
Gone are the days when enterprising young people can buy a boat and set out to make a living for their families. Now they must lease access to the fish they want to catch, paying one of the gifted few for the privilege. As catch shares are systematically implemented, in one fishery after another, more fishermen go out of business because they are not gifted enough shares to make a living. This management tool is nothing short of cap-and-trade for our coastal economy.
Coastal towns all along the North Atlantic are being crushed by these job killing programs. I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that our Gulf fisheries do not meet the same fate. Last fall I led a coalition of Gulf Coast congressional members to fight the expansion of catch share programs and insisted that federal funds not be allocated for catch share programs until congressionally-mandated scientific improvements are met.
We must end the days of NOAA asking Congress for more money to improve scientific data collection and then reallocating those same funds to implement catch shares. I will not stand by and watch NOAA destroy the economies of the Gulf States and certainly not at the expense of the taxpayers.
As hunting season closes along the Gulf Coast and our families turn their attention back to their boats and tackle preparation, we are reminded that we must remain ever vigilant in preserving these God given freedoms that we are so blessed to enjoy.