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Answer to Red Snapper Issue Already Exists

(Reprinted from The Fishing Wire – June 23, 2015)

I recently read an editorial that suggested recreational anglers should look to the North American Wildlife Conservation Model (North American Model) for answers to the red snapper management debacle in the Gulf of Mexico. While I’m grateful to see this highly successful and epochal model referenced in this unfortunately contentious debate over one of the South’s most iconic saltwater fish species, it became clear that the author, and probably most Americans, are not familiar with the “model” he referenced. Ironically, suggesting recreational anglers look to this model is perhaps the best argument yet for state-based management of our nation’s red snapper fishery, as well as all of our important marine recreational fisheries. States, in cooperation and with the support of recreational anglers and the sport fishing industry, have used this model to successfully manage our nation’s inland fish and wildlife resources for the benefit of all American’s for the last century.

The whole concept of the North American Model is built on the premise that all fish and wildlife are held in public trust and belong to the people – not designated individuals for personal gain. That is actually the first tenant in the North American Model, which has seven principal tenants in all.

However, it is in the second tenant where we find the most defining disparity between federal fisheries management and the North American Model. It states, “Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife – Commercial hunting and the sale of wildlife is prohibited to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations.” Of course, that suggests that there be no commercial fishing, period. The model realizes that all you need to do to decimate fish and wildlife populations is provide an open market on what you can harvest from the wild, which is why market hunting was rendered illegal more than 100 years ago. Incidentally, inland game fish, with very few exceptions in certain waterbodies of the country, are prohibited from commercial sale as well. Perhaps that is why you never hear of an inland fishery being “overfished” as defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and lends credence to Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “In a civilized and cultivated country wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.”

Although ending commercial fishing would do more for the sustainability of our marine fisheries resources than the Magnuson-Stevens Act has ever done, the majority of recreational anglers are not advocating for the elimination of commercial fishing, despite many in that industry attempting to muddy the water with claims to the contrary. We simply want a system of management that provides appropriate access to the resource.

Finally, in the same article, habitat restoration was also advised as something recreational anglers should pursue for the long-term sustainability of marine fish stocks. Fortunately, recreational anglers stepped up to carry that burden long ago, not the commercial fishermen or the environmental community. In addition to the license we buy just to go fishing, every time we purchase a package of hooks, a fishing rod, reel, lure, tackle box, depth finder, trolling motor, fuel for our fishing boat, etc., we gladly pay an excise tax that goes into a fund called the Sport Fishing and Boating Trust Fund. The majority of those funds go back to the states for fisheries conservation, angling and boating access and boating safety. However, 18.5% of that fund is dedicated to a program called the Coastal Wetlands Program. In 2015 alone, that 18.5% equates to around $112 million going to on the ground projects to conserve and restore coastal habitats. It’s part of the American System of Conservation Funding – paid for solely by anglers and boaters – and it’s the lifeblood of the North American Model.

Recreational anglers have indeed looked to the North American Model for answers. We helped develop it, we vigorously defend it and we gladly fund it – not just for today, but for generations of American’s to come. It is not recreational anglers who need to look to the North American Model for direction, but our federal fisheries managers.

Chris Horton
Midwestern States Director
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation

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