THE RED SNAPPER BATTLES GOES ON AND ON

This is a letter sent by Capt. Bob Zales, of the Panama City (Florida) Boatmens Association and the National Association of Charterboat Operators, to Doug Gregory – the Executive Director of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council- about the Council’s recent decision (again) to rescind the rule that requires charterboat operators to obey the more stringent of federal or state regulations when fishing in state waters. This effectively keeps captains holding federal permits from fishing in state waters when federal waters are closed.

March 17, 2014

Mr. Doug Gregory
Executive Director
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
1401 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20230

By email: doug.gregory@gulfcouncil.org

Re: Section 2.13 Action 13 of RF 30B

Dear Doug:

On behalf of the membership I wish to provide additional rationale to justify the recent Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council action to rescind the current provision of Section 2.13 Action 13 of Reef Fish Amendment 30B. The Federally permitted For-hire fishing vessel owners have opposed the current requirement from its inception as it has caused unnecessary economic and social harm to the vessel owners, their families and communities while also violating National Standard 4 by discriminating against the vessel owners and the recreational anglers who choose to fish off of For-Hire vessels rather than their own vessels or a friends vessel. This action, contrary to the stated purpose and needs in every related NMFS/Council document, has not prevented recreational harvest overruns of red snapper. It has only served to discriminate against federally permitted for-hire vessel owners and the recreational anglers who choose to hire the vessels by preventing them from harvesting red snapper in state waters when those waters are legally open. It has also caused a shift in the percentage of harvest among for-hire vessels and private recreational anglers within the recreational fishing sector.

This action was a punitive measure pushed by Dr. Roy Crabtree, Regional Director for the NMFS Southeast Region. In addition, we now believe this action was orchestrated to further the efforts of the NMFS and Dr. Crabtree to arbitrarily shift the percentage of harvest among the for-hire vessels and private anglers for the purpose of pushing sector separation within the recreational sector to further enhance the efforts by the NMFS and Dr. Crabtree to reduce fleet capacity and create catch shares in the recreational fishery.

In the spring of 2008, Dr. Crabtree, Southeast Regional Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, pressured the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to enact a regulation (Section 2.13 Action 13 of RF 30B) to prevent Federally permitted For-Hire Charter and Headboats from fishing in state waters when federal regulations closed the EEZ and to prevent those vessels from being able to fish under less restrictive regulations in state waters. Essentially this regulation requires these vessels to comply with federal regulations regardless of where they fish.

This action was in retaliation to the Florida Gulf For-Hire Charter and Headboat owners because at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in February 2008, the owners and operators of those

“Dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of our natural marine resources”
vessels along with many recreational anglers, state legislators, local community leaders, and other stakeholders requested the FWC to keep Florida waters open to recreational red snapper when the NMFS closed the EEZ. The NMFS proposed and approved regulation was directed at the federally permitted vessels and those recreational anglers who choose to hire those vessels and was done to punish those who supported the state action. After continued pressure by the NMFS Southeast Region on the Gulf Council, the Council recommended the regulation (although the vast majority of the federally permitted For-Hire Charter and Headboats owners opposed the proposal) in August 2008. The NMFS approved the regulation in record time to be effective in May 2009 prior to the opening of the recreational red snapper season the following June.

The GMFMC at their April 18th 2013 meeting voted 9 for, 6 against, with 2 absent to request an emergency action by the NMFS to rescind and remove the regulatory authority created by Section 2.13 Action 13 of RF 30B regarding the for-hire fleet which requires vessels with a Gulf of Mexico Charter Headboat Reef Fish Permit to fish by the stricter of federal or state regulations and replace it with the status quo alternative that was included in Amendment 30B of that section which is Action 13. Federal Regulatory Compliance; Alternative 1. No action. All vessels with federal commercial or charter reef fish permits are subject to applicable federal reef fish regulations when fishing in the EEZ, and are subject to applicable state reef fish regulations when fishing in state waters.

With a different Gulf Council membership, at the February 6, 2014 Council meeting, the membership voted 9 for 8 against to also rescind the provision. This Council action was forwarded to the NMFS to approve again. It should be highlighted that the council membership was different at both meetings which resulted in the same action. It is clear that the for-hire vessel owners, recreational anglers, supporting businesses, communities, and State Resource managers do not support the punitive action approved in 2009 and fully support the removal of the provision.

During discussions at the Council table before voting both Dr. Crabtree and Mara Levy (NOAA General Council) made statements that they clearly did not intend to approve the measure based on their opinions that there was not enough rationale to approve the measure. As stated above, this was the second time within a year that the Council membership (different council members at each meeting) approved a motion to rescind the action approved in 2009. In addition we now know that the NMSF stated “purpose and need” for the action, to curtail the overruns of recreational harvest of red snapper, have not occurred. To the contrary, the alleged overruns continue and in 2013 they were the highest on record. By preventing federally permitted for-hire vessels to fish in state waters when those waters are open the percentage of harvest by private recreational anglers within the recreational sector has steadily increased.

We now argue that this shift of harvest level was purposely orchestrated by the NMFS in order to convince federally permitted for-hire owners to support sector separation and catch shares. It is evident, and has been since the reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1996, that Section 407 (D) (1) “establish separate quotas for recreational fishing (which, for the purposes of this subsection shall include charter fishing) and commercial fishing that, when reached, result in a prohibition on the retention of fish caught during recreational fishing and commercial fishing, respectively, for the remainder of the fishing year; and “ that no matter what part of the recreational sector that is prevented from harvesting recreational red snapper as long as any other part is allowed to harvest the quota will be met and/or exceeded and the recreational red snapper fishery will close. Under the historical and current recreational data program it is impossible to prevent recreational overruns during a projected season so the regulation provision of amendment 30B serves only to discriminate against and punish federally permitted for-hire vessel owners, their customers, supporting businesses, and communities. To this point, Dr. Crabtree also made the statement during debate prior to the vote that without the requirement of 30B, sector separation could not happen. This statement alone is clear and undeniable evidence that the primary purpose of the push by Dr. Crabtree to approve the provision of 30B to prevent fishing by federally permitted for-hire vessels was for the sole purpose of pushing and implementing sector separation within the recreational fishery.

The owners of these vessels have suffered great economic harm and in some cases have left the For-Hire Charter fishery due to the regulation. The communities along the Gulf of Mexico have suffered severe economic and social harm due to the regulations as most depend on tourism for their continued survival. Fishing activity and the desire to seek that opportunity is critical to the vessel owners and the infrastructure that supports them which provides extensive support to the local fishing communities. The discriminatory regulation has caused for-hire vessel owners to lose customers and altered the social behavior of recreational anglers.

Another reason for this action, singling out the Federally Permitted operators, was revealed at the February, 2013 Council meeting. The purpose stated was to use the Federally Permitted Charter and Headboats as a political pawn to keep the States in line with the Federal rules. Playing politics with peoples’ lives, livelihoods, and recreational fishing enjoyment has not set well with our Governors and State Fishery Directors, as you can tell from recent States’ actions.

In summary our additional rationale is simply stated. The provisions of Amendment 30B to restrict fishing by federally permitted for-hire vessels has only discriminated against these fishing vessels, the recreational anglers who fish on these vessels, created negative economic and social impacts to these owners, their crews, their customers, supporting businesses, and communities, altered the percentage of harvest of users within the recreational sector, created havoc and dissent within the fleet, turned vessel owner against owner over the push for sector separation and catch shares, caused unnecessary negative social impacts, and has not accomplished the primary goal of the NMFS purpose and need to prevent recreational overruns of the recreational red snapper fishery. It is clear that this regulation is useless as a management tool, has caused dissent and distrust of the NMFS while only serving to harm vessel owners, their families, and communities.

It is imperative to the survival of the For-Hire Charter and Headboat fisheries, keeping and increasing jobs on the vessels and infrastructure, and the continued economic and social support for our local fishing communities that the Council request be approved and enacted ASAP. We know that there are mechanisms used by the NMFS to expedite this type of process. We urge you to use those efforts for this action to rescind this regulation so that it will become effective ASAP.

Sincerely,

Capt. Bob Zales, II
President

In other related news. captain and crew of charterboats in the Atlantic will again be able to keep recreational limits of reef fish species for themselves, in addition to the limits allowed their passengers. Unfortunately, this will not apply as yet yo boats fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

For those who wish to comment on these matters:
Dr, Roy Crabtree – roycrabtree@ nooa.gov
Gulf Council – info@gulfcouncil.org

About MikeH

Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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