July 3, 2008

Three members of South Atlantic fishery council resign in frustration


Frustration with the regulatory process drove the June 11 resignation of three long-time members of a South Atlantic Fishery Management Council advisory panel.

“I feel as though I’ve been betrayed by the system,” said Dan Kipnis who served on the South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper Advisory Panel for 13 years.

A resident of Miami Beach, Fla., Kipnis organizes recreational billfish tournaments, owns part-interest in a charter boat, writes articles for recreational fishing magazines, and lectures about the impact of climate change on the oceans.

“I’ve always been one to tell recreational and commercial fishermen that if they take a hit now, they’ll get the fishery back five-fold in the future, but the reality is they won’t get it back,” Kipnis said in a telephone interview.

In addition to Kipnis, commercial fishermen Jeff Oden and Danny Hooks resigned also.

“With the way the South Atlantic Council is headed, it’s going to be crash and burn for everyone,” said Oden from his home in Hatteras.

Wilmington resident Danny Hooks said he doesn’t believe his participation on the panel for eight years made any impact at all.

“At what point does the advisory panel get a little credit for having some sense and some knowledge of the fishery?” he asked.  “The only reason the council has advisory panels is that they are required to by law.”

Hooks called the legal requirement that the council use the best available science “just an excuse for not doing their job properly.”

The best available science requirement is identified in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 

That act also requires the eight regional councils to develop proposed rules to stop overfishing within one year from the time a scientific assessment indicates that the species might not be able to sustain population size through reproduction, and to rebuild overfished stocks within 10 years.

“And, the council must act even if the science is wrong or flawed or the only science available,” Kipnis explained.

Proposed rules for three species give Kipnis extreme heartburn.

The preferred management option for gag grouper includes the closure of the fishery from January through April, the spawning season.  The closure would also apply to other types of shallow-water groupers, such as black, red, and scamp.

For vermilion snapper, the council has proposed a closure from October through May for the recreational fishery and a reduced commercial quota that will very likely shut down that sector.

The council is also moving forward with an emergency rule that would shut down the red snapper and associated fisheries.

“Combined with the recent cuts in limits for deep-water species, these closures will wipe out billions of dollars in coastal economies,” Kipnis said.

Kipnis, Oden, and Hooks agree that Congress needs to take another look at the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“Sure we might end up with healthy fish stocks, but the law is so inflexible that all fishermen could be taken out of the equation altogether,” said Kipnis.

“Commercial and recreational fishing businesses are already going out of business,” he said.


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