Testimony by Gary Caputi, Publisher

THE EDGE- March 7, 1997




First I'd like to thank Congressman Pallone for convening this public hearing so that recreational fishermen and members of the recreational fishing industry can make their feelings known concerning the problems with the bluefin fishery and with pelagic fisheries management in general. Unfortunately, it seems like only yesterday that we were here ranting and raving about this same problem, the early bluefin closure of 1995. I hope this won't become an annual event. At that time, there were promises made that were not fulfilled. This makes it very difficult to believe fisheries managers and their superiors at the Department of Commerce. Gentlemen, you have a crisis of credibility that can not be denied.

I'm here tonight, not to comment for the Jersey Coast Anglers Association of which I am vice president, nor as a member of the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, on which I hold the obligatory seat from New Jersey. I am here to comment as a fisherman and a businessman whose livelihood is derived from publishing a magazine that teaches anglers how to fish for pelagic species. A businessman like so many others who will comment here tonight or that will comment in writing later. Our businesses and livelihoods are part of what might as well be termed the "Invisible Industry" as far as the Department of Commerce is concerned because dealings with Commerce and its fisheries agencies have made it perfectly clear that recreational fishing remains underrepresented in pelagic management plans and in the regulatory process in general.

The Department of Commerce has spent decades aiding, financing and promoting commercial fishing to the point that there is not one pelagic species left than has not been commercially harvested to the point of being fully, over-exploited or worse. It has helped commercial fishermen purchase their boats and equipment with special low-interest loan programs, and then used tax payer's dollars to buy back those boats after they were permitted to collapse certain fisheries. It has provided untold public funds in the form of SK grants to commercial fishing advocates like NFI, which then use the money to pervert well-intentioned FMPs into ineffective, watered-down plans that do nothing to protect the resource. If there was ever an incestuous relationship with government, it is the one fostered between Commerce and the commercial fishing industry. It continues to this day.

Never mind that there is a multi-billion dollar U.S. industry dependent upon these fisheries that doesn't harvest fish for market. Never mind that there are hundreds-of-thousands of U.S. jobs that are dependent upon these fisheries that are negatively impacted by the biased regulatory decisions that are imposed on it under the direction of the Department of Commerce. Surely, recreational fishing is the "Invisible Industry" as far as regulators are concerned. I often wonder if the Department of Commerce considers the recreational fishing industry commerce at all!

Gentlemen, I'm here to tell you that there damned well is a huge industry dependent upon healthy marine fisheries and a truly fair and representative allocation share of the allowable harvest and it's not commercial fishing. President Clinton recognized the importance of this industry in Executive Order #12962 on Recreational Fisheries dated June 7, 1995, but with how little effect it has had on management and expanding sport fishing opportunities to date, we can still consider ourselves the Invisible Industry, but not for long much longer. Things are changing and changing rapidly and the Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service had better welcome us into the process with open arms or get out of the way.

After the successful attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto, the officer in charge of the Japanese fleet, was heard saying, "I fear we have only awakened a sleeping giant." Gentlemen, this latest fisheries management debacle heaped upon years of regulatory bias and disregard for the overall health of our public resource marine fisheries by the Department of Commerce and it's agencies, has awakened a sleeping giant of another sort. Recreational fishing and its wide-spread tentacles that intertwine through industries with such diverse business members as boat builders, engine manufacturers, boat dealers and marinas; tackle manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers; charter and party boat operators and owners, marine fuel manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, coastal tourism, publishers like myself and on and on. We are coming together with a greater number of recreational fishermen and their advocacy groups and it will impact the direction of pelagic fisheries management in positive ways for the resource and for the benefit of the Invisible Industry.

Believe me, we know where we stand. When has the Department of Commerce initiated an Economic Impact Study of the Invisible Industry? There is one included in almost every FMP for the commercial user group. When has Commerce shown the least interest in quantifying the economic benefit of the Invisible Industry? When has Commerce given credence to the part of the Magnuson Act that calls for fair and equitable treatment of all user groups in fisheries management plans? The Invisible Industry represents the largest user group that receives the least consideration and the smallest harvest allocations. Fair and equitable, I don't think so.

The people here tonight, and the thousands more who could not attend because of the unfortunately timing of this meeting, deserve better. They are here to protest another poorly planned and executed FMP that is now costing them untold losses in business income, income they depend upon to make it through another season. The closure of the school bluefin fishery was ill-timed, especially when we consider that it was undertaken using the same inaccurate statistics that closed it prematurely last year. Statistics gathered and used in a modeling formula that is flawed in any number of ways and was supposed to be corrected so this would not occur again, but was not.

The scramble is now on to correct things by NMFS, not because it's the right thing to do, but because pressure has been brought upon Commerce from higher up the political ladder. We're learning a lot more about how to play the game and you can bet we'll only get better as time goes by. I only hope we have learned the ropes in time to prevent further reductions in the populations of key, recreationally important species.

With regard to the bluefin situation, I suggest the immediate reopening of the school fish season for the northern sector to minimize the economic damage already done. If it becomes necessary to accomplish this by using an additional transfer from the reserve category, the category commercial interests feel is theirs by birthright, than so be it.

Second, it is imperative that the inaccurate harvest data for 1995 and 1996 be disregarded and reassessed. The current data overestimates the actual harvest of the angling category by orders of magnitude.

Third, the implementation of a system of accurately determining the true recreational harvest of these fish so we can more closely monitor the harvest and more accurately control overfishing by all user groups. The General Category has a history of going over their quota just in time to receive a transfer from the reserve to make up the difference. This should not be occurring with the reporting regulations and system that is in place for that category.

Last, we must correct the ridiculously low quota allotment of school bluefin tuna at ICCAT this year. The 8 percent cap on small bluefin is without precedent and biased against the recreational user group. It is incumbent upon the Department of Commerce, NMFS and the State Department to fight on our behalf to correct this egregious wrong. Further, the angling category should receive a considerably large quota of the large school, small and large medium fish so that their presence in the fishery can be reinstated to levels more closely representative of their historic participation in the fishery that they dominated historically.

As we move beyond bluefin tuna and begin the management plans for yellowfin, bigeye and longfin tunas, the recreational fishing industry and community must be brought into the process as a full partner. These plans must be based on accurate historical catch data so these fisheries can not be erroneously pronounce "commercially dominated" and therefore commercial interest will receive the lion's share of the harvest allocation. Just as bluefin tuna were once the exclusive domain of the recreational fishing community and industry, these other tunas have been an integral and extremely important part of this industry, as well. They must remain so.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. When you return to your offices after the long weekend, keep looking over your shoulders because the Invisible Industry is going to be watching your every move and has no intention of remaining quiet while additional injustices are heaped atop past inequities.

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