May 16, 2011
New red snapper and grouper regulations are causing who knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars of damages in communities ringing the Gulf of Mexico.
Some say the losses run into the billions.
Whatever the exact numbers, the economic and social pain is very, very intense.
Like a stealthy, unnamed hurricane, our own federal government is causing the havoc in order to maintain high commercial catches while hitting general public fishermen with absurdly low limits, or even complete closures.
Of course, pandering to commercial interests is business as usual for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which should be known as it once was as the Bureau of Commerical Fisheries.
Most recently, the feds decided to chop the recreational Gulf catch by half and close seasons in areas where anglers have reported the fastest red snapper fishing they've experienced in many years.
And now the talk is to do the same on the Atlantic side, including a grouper closure that would be especially disastrous for the already-troubled Florida Keys. It gets crazier by the week.
There are cutbacks, to be sure, in the total commercial catches. But we're still left with a handful of industrial-style fishers taking tons while personal-use anglers get few, or even none.
At some point this determination to maintain large for-sale takes will have to be addressed, just as it was a century ago in fresh water and woods. It just doesn't work to sell wild animals in numbers while non-commercial users suffer.
Unfortunately, the wildlife sellers are powerful and clever lobbyists. Their profits speak volumes.
Still, the day will come, we predict, when vulnerable saltwater wildlife will be allocated for non-commerical use only, with every citizen equal. The shame is that reform may take another generation and in the meantime communities will continue to suffer losses at the worst possible time for them.
Interestingly, wildlife is really easy to manage at high abundance—once we get over the sad compulsion to sell it.
Or, even continue some carefully regulated sales on a provisional basis.
But, start with an absolute number one set of priorities: Everyone gets equal treatment, for personal use, with limits as strict as they need to be to provide good general public use, and maximum community benefits.
Instead, it looks like we have more years of mismanagement ahead, with personal profit seekers at the helm.