RFA Warns Of Environmental Duplicity In New Bluefin Ploy

After 6-1/2 years of heavy political pressure, a pair of national rallies, and promises by more than a dozen respected members of Congress, U.S. saltwater anglers are perplexed at the lack of legislative movement to protect sensible access to coastal fisheries.  Sadly, since the reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act in late 2006, a number of debilitating fisheries facts have come to reality:

–          Since switching over from traditional days-at-sea limits to sector management in 2010, New England’s cod fishery has collapsed with legislation recently introduced to help defray the cost of a $150 million fisheries disaster.

–          After implementing the individual fishing quota plan for the Gulf of Mexico in 2007, recreational anglers have also watched their number of available fishing days for Gulf red snapper drop by over 80%.  New legislation has been introduced to allow Gulf States to expand territorial waters to make up for federal issues. 

–          Anglers in the South Atlantic have been able to fish for red snapper a total of six days ever since the federal government extended a ban on red snapper fishing in federal waters off North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and the Atlantic coast of Florida in 2010.

–          Despite its healthy, rebuilt status since the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in late 2006, recreational harvest of black sea bass in federal waters in January and February was officially shut down in 2009.  Available fishing days for black sea bass have been on average 50% less in the days since black sea bass was rebuilt as compared to seasons prior.

On the above facts alone, many coastal legislators have acknowledged and accepted the fact that our federal fisheries law has strayed from its original intent – to foster vibrant American fisheries where both commercial and recreational fishermen alike can achieve the best possible annual yield of harvest while promoting healthy fish stocks.  Key changes to this draconian fisheries management today brought about by heavy influence of environmental groups like Pew Charitable Trusts and Environmental Defense Fund have led to widespread fishing closures.

While organizations like the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) have lobbied on behalf of their members to amend the federal fisheries law to provide a better balance of commerce and conservation in the name of sustainable access, groups like Pew have built partnerships to oppose any congressional reform efforts.

Recently, Pew Environment Group’s Lee Crocket announced what he called “a significant move,” as the American Bluefin Tuna Association (ABTA) and the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) officially signed on as partners with Pew “to protect bluefin tuna, one of the most amazing fish in the sea. By working together, we might be able to help ensure a brighter future for this depleted fish.”

According to RFA executive director Jim Donofrio, untangling the Pew web of deceit is a full-time task, made harder whenever Magnuson Stevens is up for review.  “Just about every time I sit down with a member of Congress to ask for a reasonable change in the management process to protect anglers, DC staffers will say ‘oh Pew was just here and they said they’re partnering with anglers who don’t support any changes to the law.’”

Donofrio said it should be no mystery that these new Pew partnerships typically become public about the time that Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization debate is underway.

“Congress is looking to reauthorize our federal fisheries law this year and once again all the Pew chess pieces are being moved around the board.  Their Marine Fish Conservation Network has turned off their phones and scrubbed their website, while Pew is now announcing new partnerships with groups like the IGFA and ABTA, so yes I’d say the greenwashing is underway just in time for the Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization debate in Congress,” Donofrio added.

RFA said as the leading opponent of ‘management flexibility’ and most ardent supporter of more restrictive anti-fishing measures, Pew’s new partnerships on a single-issue cause are not as much about bluefin protection as they are about bolstering the credibility in Congress leading up to reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“These are the same political operatives who are on a mission to create 15 massive marine sanctuaries before 2020, the same showroom environmentalists who have spearheaded an international network of no-access marine reserves as they have on the West Coast of the United States and near the Northeast Hawaiian Islands,” Donofrio said.

“Yes, RFA has legitimate concerns with surface longlining in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly as it relates to bycatch, but partnering with Pew as the IGFA and ABTA have done is simply exchanging bluefin tuna protection for overall coastal access to red snapper, black sea bass, summer flounder and other inshore species.  It’s nothing but a deal with the devil,” he added.

Donofrio said regional response to the Pew/ABTA/IGFA partnership announcement has been understandably distrustful.  “RFA has a long track record fighting in opposition to the efforts by former purse-seine lobbyist Rich Ruais on bluefin tuna quota for the recreational sector, and that was before he went on to represent the longliners at Bluewater Fishermen’s Association where we again debated him frequently in defense of RFA members, the individual saltwater anglers,” Donofrio said.

It was RFA that originally brokered a deal to get the purse seiners to agree to stop harvesting yellowfin tuna in 1998 when Donofrio was working side-by-side Peter Wiess to wrestle the seiners’ control over the fishery when Ruais was lobbyist.  “Regardless of any personal angles which might be achieved by working directly with Pew, recreational fishermen would be wise to pull their public support of ABTA before it’s too late,” he added.

Donofrio noted that whatever individual cause that Pew Environment Group pledges support in order to attract new partners, it’s the organization’s ultimate goal which should raise concerns.

“Pew has made it very clear their overall mission is to create a global network of at least 15 no take marine sanctuaries, which means reduced fishing pressure and lost access for fishermen, and that’s the bottom line,” Donofrio said.  “Pew has the financial resource to get within reach of their goal, they just need a few supporting partners to help them clear the final hurdles.”

Donofrio said that less than two months into his swearing in as U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry called for the establishment of new marine sanctuaries in parts of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica while at a March 18th event hosted by Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C.

“Hard to believe that only 2 years ago Mr. Ruais claimed that Pew was running NOAA, controlling the Obama administration and forcing radical approaches to bluefin management,” Donofrio said, adding “since ABTA is now willing to partner with the preservationists, perhaps they won’t be so quick to fight RFA’s efforts to secure inter-category bluefin quota transfer to allow more sustainable hook and line harvest of bluefin in the recreational sector.”


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