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Who's Steering Anyway

Who's Steering Anyway
Who's Steering Anyway

Could it be that our federal fisheries management system is a wholly owned subsidiary of the private seafood industry?

Or does it just seem so.

Of course, right now, one may wonder if the federal fisheries machine is also partly owned and run by a near-rabid environmental group pushing “catch shares” schemes and denigrating recreational fishing.

Maybe the public should be given a chance to right the straying ship. You think?

After all, there are time-proven, efficient methods to manage wildlife for everyone's benefit (except, perhaps, for the few making special profits).

The long-running successes, ignored by the federal seafood team, have been mostly in fresh water, though a few marine species have benefited, such as snook and redfish. A simple trick does the job—no sale of pressured wildlife.

On the first question as to whether the seafood industry drives federal management, you need look no further than the gummint's handling of the wreckfish.

Remindful of the “trainwreck” term used lately to describe the National Marine Fisheries Service, the wreckfish is a big fish that lives deep, for the sole benefit, it is decreed, of the commercial industry.

Recreational anglers don't catch many wreckfish, which is fortunate for them, because it is unlawful to do so. The entire take is officially allocated to commercial use only.

Commercials take something around two million pounds of the wreckers, not that we know much at all about the activity. Much of it is secret. Only in a strange and dark place, like the wreckfish enjoy, could such secrecy and mal-allocation flourish.

The commercial tilt shows elsewhere, to be sure, as with the gag grouper, normally a staple of bottom fishing. Personal-use fishermen on the Gulf may take zero gags while commercials may keep 100,000 pounds as supposed “bycatch,” though we're not sure who's counting.

Then with red grouper, we find four out of five going to the market, even though non-commercial fishing provides far more benefits, including jobs.

And yet now the fisheries plot thickens from an opposite direction with the startling power of the Environmental Defense Fund, whose leaders bemoan overfishing but fail to understand that commercial excesses have been the problem. The EDF's bright idea is to shut out everyone, cause of depletion or not.

The EDF noise would be tolerable ordinarily but the rich organization now runs the NOAA Fisheries store through environmentalist Jane Lubchenco, a well-meaning gal who somehow hasn't learned about standard wildlife management.

On a final, more cheery note, these chaotic times may better expose past allocation failures and focus on measures shown to work every time.

“Order Out of Chaos” was a title about a bewildering theory of quantum physics. Maybe some good changes will evolve out of today's simmering fish chowder. FS

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