Central Florida’s Fishing Industry In Distress
By Capt. Joe Palermo // April 18, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The Atlantic waters off of the coast of Central Florida are home to some of the most productive fisheries in the United States.
Rich with Cobia, King Mackerel, Dolphin, Wahoo, Sailfish, Grouper, Snapper, Amberjack, Sea Bass, and many other highly desirable species, for years anglers from around the world have traveled to these waters with great expectations to quench their thirst for deep sea fishing adventure and hunger for delicious Atlantic seafood.
However, over the past few years, this fishery has been under attack by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with the implementation of strict regulations on many species based on what is thought by many to be flawed scientific data.
NMFS Regulations Add To Brevard Economic Woes
These unnecessary prime Atlantic species closures, which are supported by environmentalists groups such as PETA, have Florida’s $8 Billion fishing industry in a chokehold.
At a time when thousands of jobs were lost in the space industry, the sustained fishing regulations imposed on recreational fishermen and those of us in the fishing industry pile on and have a devastating impact on the entire economy.
Boat builders, mechanics, marinas, tackle providers, fish markets, and many other industries have already experienced a steep downward trend in revenue.
The general public has also been faced with higher seafood prices due to diminishing supplies of desirable species that are now being imported from other countries.
Red Snapper Ban Most Controversial
Among the most controversial species closure has been the American Red Snapper. In January 2010 the NMFS closed Red Snapper indefinitely throughout the South Atlantic waters due to speculation of a diminishing population due to “overfishing.”
It has been illegal to catch and keep Red Snapper in federal waters from the Florida Keys to North Carolina since January 2010, when the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council shut down the fishery.
In reviewing the methodology used to assess the “stock” of Red Snappers, it is apparent that it is just a statistical exercise run amuck with obvious flawed data and inadequate scientific stock assessment techniques. The NMFS calls it the “best available science,” but that is defined exclusively by them and not by a peer-reviewed scientific process.
Fishermen dispute the science in red snapper stock assessments and have done so loudly. Moreover, the closure affects the most valuable asset for scientists, too: data. Without catches, the flow of information needed to update stock assessments stops.
As a charter and commercial captain out of Port Canaveral for 11 years, I have seen this fishery flourish. The two per person limit for Red Snapper set in the 1990s clearly resulted in a steady increase in stocks. In 2009, we were regularly catching our limit of 5-10 pounders within a few hours of leaving the dock.
Today, the swarm of Red Snappers on every structure makes fishing for other species very difficult. Red Snapper schools regularly eat the baits on the surface before the baits have a chance to be presented to the target species below.
NMFS Reliance On What Appears To Be “Bad Science”
The Red Snapper closure is just the tip of the iceberg in the fight for our rights to fish. Black Sea Bass, Cobia, Dolphin, Grouper, and many other species are now targets of consideration for more regulation.
The NMFS appears to be turning a blind eye to these facts and continues to rely on “bad science” for crucial decisions related to regulatory fishing in the South Atlantic, which, of course, includes the Space Coast.
Many of our local captains, who are on the water almost every day, have offered to provide detailed information related to what we see on a day-to-day basis to NMFS members and scientists.
Federal dollars have been allocated for a Red Snapper “tagging” program, but, to my knowledge, primarily because of the red-tape and complexity of the process, very few fishermen in this area have participated in the program.
Unfortunately, there appears to be little interest in developing a productive working relationship with those of us working in the industry.
The Red Snapper closure is just the tip of the iceberg in the fight for our rights to fish. Black Sea Bass, Cobia, Dolphin, Grouper, and many other species are now targets of consideration for more regulation. It seems that the NMFS has an agenda to significantly curtail fishing throughout the country by getting away with flawed data and “bad science.”
Controversy Rages Over “Seriously Dysfunctional” NFMS-Fishing Industry Relationship
The NMFS has, in fact, come under intense scrutiny from the fishing industry, both commercial and recreational, and Congress, leading to a multi-part investigation by the Commerce Department Inspector General which found serious problems and misuse of funds. Also, The NMFS is being sued in federal court by the Recreational Fishing Alliance for imposing “unwarranted closures.”
The Obama appointed secretary of commerce of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees the NMFS, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, expressed a commitment to fix a relationship between the fishing industry and NMFS. Lubchenco herself called the relationship between NMFS and those whom it regulates “seriously dysfunctional.”
Despite the outcry on this matter, the strong-arm of the government has created an agenda that continues to baffle the industry, potentially creating a marine environment where our children may never have the opportunity to experience the same joy and adventure of off-shore fishing that we had enjoyed until the past two years.
When will it stop?