During the summer of 2012, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) heard from thousands of recreational fishermen in opposition sector separation mechanisms proposed under Reef Fish Amendment 39. Because of the sheer volume of public comments opposing this proposal to divide and conquer the recreational fishing community into smaller portions, the Gulf Council took no action to advance this ill-advised plan.

On December 24th, 2013, the Gulf Council sneaked a new proposal through during the busy holiday season, once again pushing forward mechanisms that would ultimately divide and conquer the recreational fishing sector in the Gulf.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) is once again asking anglers to unite in opposition to this effort to once again divide our recreational fishing community.

Reef Fish Amendment 40 will consider the formal partition of the recreational sector into two distinct components, one being the private angling component made up of individual saltwater anglers, a second component being a federal for-hire component. Red snapper resources would then be allocated between these components.

RFA executive director Jim Donofrio said such action to divide the recreational sector into components would then rely on government data to reallocate recreational harvest limits based on best available data, data which he called “fatally flawed.”

“Once again, the federal government is using the regional council process to divide our angling community into have’s and have not’s, without any reasonable harvest data to guide their decision,” Donofrio said. “The Commerce Department and its National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is allowing the recreational fishing sector to be ripped apart piece by piece, without ever meeting their congressional mandate to provide better data.”

Despite the thousands of anti-sector separation comments received by the Gulf Council and Commerce Department over the past year and a half, activists who would like to see individual fish tags implemented across the recreational fishing spectrum are continuing to push their agenda through the council process.

“The key thing to remember on this sector separation scam is this; the Gulf Council tabled sector separation after I laid on the podium, as part of the public record, copies of over 400 pages of comments against sector separation,” said RFA member Capt. Tom Hilton of Texas. “By giving them 1-1/2 years to gather signatures from customers going fishing on charter boats each morning, we can expect the EDF-funded captains to come out in full force with reams of paper supporting sector separation, count on it.”

Just recently, a new exempted fishing permit study was implemented by the Gulf Council, with support from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and their organizational advocates, whereby a small group of headboats get to fish for red snapper whenever they want. Donofrio calls the sector separation and fish tag plan the environmental industry’s final solution to capping fishing participation in the United States.

“Once the recreational sector is divided, the fish tag mechanisms can move forward on a grander scale until ultimately the only way anyone can fish for red snapper, grouper or sea bass is by purchasing a harvest tag for each fish you plan to take,” Donofrio said. “Anglers really need to stand up in unison to oppose these divisionary tactics.”

“Radical fleet reduction is the goal,” said Capt. Chip Blackburn of Mexico Beach, FL. “First headboats, next will be charter for-hire, next will be the rest of recreational fishermen.”

RFA and its representatives in the Gulf chapters are asking anglers to visit the Gulf Council public comment page this week to respond in opposition to the Amendment 40.

“We believe maintaining an open fishery with fair and equitable regulations that sustain the fish and the fishermen is a better method of fisheries management,” said Capt. Tom Adams of the RFA’s Forgotten Coast chapter, adding “we believe management needs to abandon their efforts to promote catch shares and sector separation and focus their efforts and funding on improved stock assessments with more appropriate modeling that will account for the substantial growth of a fishery like red snapper.”

As Blackburn noted in his 2012 comments in opposition to the plan, “As a charter fisherman with federal permits and almost 30 years in the business this blatant attempt at divide and conquer is disgusting. I, as are all my customers, totally opposed to sector separation and catch shares.”
Capt. Blackburn and others are particularly incensed at the Gulf Council’s new pilot program which has given 17 hand-selected Gulf party boats 5% of the overall recreational quota for 2014 red snapper. One recent promotional sign on a participating headboat boasts Yes, You Can Keep Your Red Snapper Today, which Blackburn said is “right down the road from me in Port St. Joe while I am tied to the dock by federal regulations. Is it time for civil disobedience yet?”

RFA called civil disobedience one potential option for the future, but today they are encouraging anglers to speak out against Amendment 40.

Click here, or go directly to the link below to send your comments directly the Southeast Regional Office of NMFS (www.gulfcouncil.org/council_meetings/comment_forms/RF%20Amendment%2040%20-%20Sector%20Separation.php)  RFA urges all individual anglers and business owners to make their comments unique – but the following points can be used to make your individual case in opposition to the plan.

I am against implementing Sector Separation for the Gulf of Mexico.

I am against recreational catch shares and individual fish tags in the Gulf of Mexico.

I believe a federal inquiry into the Commerce Department’s action to pilot a program which takes 5% of the recreational fishing quota away from anglers should be opened immediately.

I believe the pilot program is unfair, unethical, and I support the Recreational Fishing Alliance in questioning the overall legality of just such a program which financially rewards the few while penalizing the many.

I believe NMFS has been derelict in its duties to fix the recreational data collection in a timely process and will be asking my member of Congress to take immediate action to hold our government accountable for its gross neglect of our recreational fishing community.

As a recreational angler, I would ask that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to vote down Reef Fish Amendment 40.