May 16, 2013 – The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) today sent a letter to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Southeast Regional Administrator Roy Crabtree, along with several key members of Congress, charging the federal fisheries agency with violating federal law. (Click here to download a PDF version of RFA’s letter.)
“Dr. Crabtree recently took a position against the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) and its chairman Doug Boyd that RFA believes is a gross infringement of the Magnuson Stevens Act,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. “This federal agency is making its own legal opinions in ignoring the will of stakeholders at the Gulf Council, with what appears to be zero managerial oversight within the U.S. Department of Commerce.”
Donofrio said the fact that there has been no official Secretary of Commerce confirmation in Washington for the past year, while the Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere position has been vacant for the past three months, is especially troubling for coastal fishermen who have been waging an uphill battle against over-burdensome bureaucracy for years.
“The Commerce Department has been hostile towards our coastal businesses during the past five years, that’s been proven by previous Inspector General reports in light of document shredding, predatory enforcement and misuse of federal funds at NOAA Fisheries,” Donofrio said. “To see this latest round of attacks by NOAA against our Gulf fishermen is proof that Congress needs to step up and step in.”
RFA’s letter today to Dr. Crabtree was also sent to key Members of Congress, where Donofrio is hoping to secure a joint oversight hearing with members of the appropriate committees in both the House and Senate.
“Our members feel there’s impropriety here in this decision by NOAA Fisheries, it’s punitive to the fishing communities and clearly not in the spirit or intent of the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” said Donofrio. “With all the reports coming out of DC in recent days, it should really come as no surprise to anyone that these federal agencies are out of control and completely hostile towards small business.”
Last month, the Gulf Council voted to rescind a rule which they originally passed in 2008 giving NMFS authority to force federally permitted vessels to abide by the draconian federal restrictions, even when fishing in state waters, or risk losing their federal license. Dr. Crabtree’s response back to the Council this week was that their official vote was “not warranted,” and thus would not be honored by the fisheries service.
“What the Gulf Council asked for in no way infringes on the conservation goals of the red snapper rebuilding plan or on the overall health of the stock, but was actually in response to too many red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico,” Donofrio said. “Council members were asking NMFS to allow all fishermen equal opportunity to access this rapidly rebuilding red snapper stock, and were denied.”
Many coastal anglers see Dr. Crabtree’s decision to deny the Council’s request as not just unrelated to concern for the red snapper resource, but also part of an agenda to exclude fishermen from the fishery, hurt small businesses and fragment the recreational fishing community.
Capt. Tom Adams, chairman of the RFA’s Forgotten Coast Chapter and a Mexico Beach charter boat captain, said NOAA’s outright defiance will have grave economic impact on the local businesses which function by taking anglers fishing. “The only thing they will accomplish is to further distress the already hurting economies in all Gulf States and destroy the charter for-hire industry which only operates to take recreational fishermen fishing,” Adams said. “The families and children, while on summer vacation, will be hurt the most.”
“Is there really any reason for a Gulf Council, and to pay all these expenses and salaries if the Regional Administrator is only going to make all final decisions,” Adams asked.
Fellow RFA-FL angler and advocate Capt. Buddy Bradham had similar questions about NOAA’s recent position, asking “Does Mr. Crabtree not understand that the northern Gulf of Mexico is still recovering from the disaster of the oils spill and by not signing these emergency rules he is causing a huge economic impact to this area?”
“He shows by not signing this rule, he does not have a problem causing an economic failure,” Bradham added.
Download RFA’s letter in PDF form at