Governor Charlie Crist announced out of the blue that the state has quietly cut a deal to buy roughly half of Big Sugar.
Most everyone was stunned, and then giddy (giddy being the word much used in media nationwide to describe the reaction).
Fishermen and other outdoors folks have special reason to be giddy about it, though they would be loath to pick that particular word.
The buyout of U.S. Sugar’s 187,000 acres could, and certainly should, restore much of the Everglades River of Grass and send water south from Lake Okeechobee instead of hammering the estuaries to the east and west coasts, degrading vast amounts of life in wet times.
Estuaries are vital for a majority of marine life, up and down the coasts. Discharges in order to drain Big Sugar have been devastating.
The sugar buyout changes everything, assuming it’s done efficiently and in good faith. A price of some $1.75 billion may seem high. But we think it’s a few cane stalks compared to public benefits and alternatives. Let’s go for it. Get it done as quickly as humanly possible.
A number of factors present this rather amazing opportunity.
One is the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund’s federal lawsuit attacking the estuary discharges (see RiversCoalition.org). Now, the lawsuit continues, but with parties waiting to see how the sugar cube crumbles.
Also stunning, but in a very negative way, are plans by federal fisheries managers to impose ill-advised closures on red snapper and grouper.
Draconian measures are being pushed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and fishery management councils on the basis of what we consider to be deeply flawed junk science (see On the Conservation Front in this issue).
The resultant proposals are especially preposterous for the red snapper fishery, in which fish appear to be clearly abundant and trending upward. For the feds to find them in bad trouble, as they do, requires some very twisted fundamentals.
Here’s the heart of the problem:
Under the guise of “rebuilding” (a very important idea in all this) the managers are instead setting a mythical biomass (fish population) goal that never existed. The artificially inflated goal then is used to come up with equally spurious “maximum sustainable yield” goals. Drastic reductions are thus deemed necessary to move toward the unreal biomass.
Strong new scientific findings against the federal stance come in a research paper by Dr. Bob Shipp, vice chairman of the Gulf Fishery Management Council where he is usually overwhelmed by commercial influences.
Shipp concludes that red snapper populations are higher now than ever due to habitat changes such as deployment of artificial reefs and oil rigs in the northwestern Gulf. The structures, ignored by the formula-obsessed crew, serve as large red snapper factories.
We are publishing Shipp’s report verbatim at: www.floridasportsman.com/casts/080701
It should be painfully obvious to the feds that they must recognize their projected-biomass blunder and swim into the real world.