Letter Spotlights Government Failure To Meet Federal Data Deadline

The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) has submitted official comments to Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), Chairman of U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans following an official hearing in Washington on March 20th at the urging of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

In their letter to Chairman Begich, RFA cited recent testimony given before the House Natural Resources Committee by Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) at the U.S. Department of Commerce when he revealed that legal requirements to improve recreational fishing data have not been implemented. “It is correct that we have a 2009 deadline that we did not entirely meet,” admitted Sam Rauch, III on March 13, explaining that angler registry requirements have not yet been implemented despite a 2006 congressional mandate.

RFA’s letter references a Connecticut study which found huge discrepancies between NOAA’s estimated number of saltwater anglers as compared to saltwater licenses sales from several Atlantic coast states. According to the report by Dr. Victor Crecco, NOAA’s 2008 saltwater angler estimates were often “three to four times higher than both the 2006 USFWS estimates and the 2008 adjusted saltwater license sales,” findings which Dr. Crecco said strongly suggest the government has been severely overestimating the number of saltwater anglers and fishing trips in recent years, and therefore severely inflating the actual catch and harvest by saltwater anglers.

“The RFA asks that the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans consider the findings of Dr. Crecco and consider the ramifications of using a notably flawed methodology to monitor recreational angler harvest,” wrote RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. “If the data collection conducted by NOAA Fisheries and NMFS is grossly overestimating effort and participation as Dr. Crecco and many individual anglers strongly believe, then Sen. Schumer is absolutely correct in asserting that anglers are being punished by quota reductions due to erroneous landings estimates produced by a broken system.”

(Download RFA letter to Begich at www.rfa.tvsdev.com/Press/BegichComments032113.pdf)

At the March 20th hearing, Sen. Schumer testified on behalf of New York summer flounder fishermen who he said have been undermined by unfair and unscientific recreational and commercial limits for too long, putting the state’s fishing industry at a disadvantage compared to neighboring states.

“One thing that we can all agree on is that the fisheries of America need to be governed by two core principles: fairness for our fishermen and an adherence to the best science and data we have available,” Sen. Schumer said, adding “Unfortunately for New York, today, neither of those two core principles prevails when it comes to our most prized summer fish, the fluke.”

Representatives from New York and New Jersey also testified on behalf of their own regionally specific quota allowance of summer flounder. While RFA continues to argue for legislative change to the federal fisheries law to release the stranglehold of the Science and Statistical Committees (SSC) who have forced rigid annual catch limits and punishing accountability measures upon anglers based on questionable science and data collection, even more troubling was the testimony delivered by the Legislative Chairman of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA), Tom Fote, who told the Senate “I believe we have been underestimating the number of recreational anglers and the number of fish they are catching.”

RFA called that statement statistically and scientifically baseless and warned it could prove especially damning for coastal anglers in the months during the ongoing fisheries debate in Congress.

“If any member of Congress were to support this unfounded belief that the current recreational data is only showing half or even a quarter of the number of anglers and total harvest, then our recreational anglers are doomed no matter what state they fish,” said Donofrio after the hearing. “Instead of being 14% over the summer flounder harvest in 2012 and losing 25 days of season in 2013, Mr. Foote’s reasoning is that New Jersey should lose perhaps another 20, 30 or even 50 days of season because he doesn’t think the data is restrictive enough.”

(Click here to view the hearing in its entirety via archived webcast. (View Tom Fote’s testimony at the 1:54:15 mark.)

In 2010, Sen. Schumer called upon then Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, and retired NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Office Patricia Kurkul to issue an immediate moratorium on the flawed survey data used to implement recreational fishing quotas. In his letter, Sen. Schumer referred to the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS) as “fatally flawed” and reminded NOAA of their responsibility under MSA to implement changes to the methodology used to monitor recreational catch and effort.

RFA managing director Jim Hutchinson who attended the Senate hearing said RFA members should be encouraged by recent hearings in both the House Natural Resources Committee and Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, but warned that allowing NOAA to shirk their responsibilities could help some hardline environmental groups in their efforts to make the federal fisheries law even more restrictive.

“We are encouraged by the open fisheries debate and discussion in Congress right now, and we thank both Sen. Schumer and Chairman Begich for helping spearhead this dialog in the Senate, but RFA is hoping that members will take a serious look at the National Research Council findings in 2006 about the sorry state of the recreational data collection and how NOAA has responded,” said Hutchinson who is also president of the New York Sportfishing Federation.

“Recreational fishermen need to be on the same page at this point, and telling Congress that this fatally flawed data is actually underestimating annual catch harvest isn’t just dangerous, it’s unscientifically unproven and just plain wrong,” Hutchinson said.

“I know that this isn’t an indication of where Governor Christie’s perspective is with regard to this NOAA data failure,” Donofrio added while noting that Fote is also the New Jersey Governor’s appointed representative at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.


The Recreational Fishing Alliance is a national, grassroots political action organization representing recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues. RFA’s Mission is to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries. For more information, call 888-JOIN-RFA or visit www.rfa.tvsdev.com