Kids say the darndest things!
“Mr. Hutchinson, are the bigger fish the ones that make babies? If they are why do they want us to keep those?”
A young angler named Keegan asked me that rather intriguing question on Facebook; sadly, it’s not a question that seems to intrigue anyone in Congress. On April 4, the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans met to discuss the Transparent Summer Flounder Quotas Act sponsored by New Jersey Representatives Frank Pallone (D) and Frank LoBiondo (R). If you read my April 6th Editor’s Log in The Fisherman, you know I wasn’t too keen on the bill; and when you read what happened at the hearing, perhaps you’ll understand why this legislation was more than just useless, it was actually quite damaging.
Rep. Jared Huffman of California, the ranking democrat on the subcommittee started the hearing by saying “I’m sorry to say that as currently written I feel like this bill takes us in the wrong direction,” explaining how the Magnuson Stevens Act establishes that annual catch limits are based on the “best available science.” Mr. Pallone, a former ranking democrat himself in the fisheries committee was not in attendance for this hearing for a statement or rebuttal. Instead, the democrats called as their witness John McMurray of New York, who based his opposing testimony on the evisceration of New Jersey’s “status quo” argument.
“If you have the season, people fish for the opportunity to fish, it’s good to bring home some fish and certainly there’s hope that that happens on every trip, but it’s the season that’s important, it’s the opportunity,” said Mr. McMurray, who happens to be a frequent critic of New Jersey fishermen, cooperative science and the recreational fishing industry. He went on to say that a three fluke at 19-inch limit would “still provide a reasonable amount of access.”
This is where Keegan’s Facebook question would’ve fit nicely; the fact is, higher size limit results in selective harvest of breeding females while also increasing the release mortality on undersized male fish. There’s an argument to be made for a slot limit mechanism in the fluke fishery, while establishing need for a new sex-specific model in the assessment itself. Regrettably, none of this ever came up because neither Mr. LoBiondo nor Mr. Pallone attended their hearing, nor did they try very hard getting witnesses to speak on behalf of New Jersey’s argument.
While the Garden State no longer has a representative on the House fisheries panel, in a republican-led Congress Mr. LoBiondo would’ve had no problem going directly to the committee chairman, fellow republican congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, to have a witness testify for the majority and his own bill. An ideal candidate would’ve been NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin who’s been leading the fight to keep the fluke regulations in place until the next benchmark stock assessment.
Not only did the two congressmen introduce a dead-on-arrival bill, but by not showing up to defend New Jersey or get someone to do so as a witness, they ultimately humiliated the state and undermined the Christie administration’s efforts to secure an appeal of the so-called “Option 5” vote when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) meets from May 8-11 in Alexandria, VA.
“Unfortunately I didn’t hear much about the other side in this testimony,” noted another California democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Jimmy Panetta. A former prosecutor, Mr. Panetta said he preferred to hear both sides of any argument before making a decision and asked Mr. McMurray, a former Environmental Defense Fund advisor and grant administrator at the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in New York City, what the New Jersey opposition might say if they were in attendance.
“It’s really hard to say what happens in New Jersey, I live in New York,” responded Mr. McMurray, a sad admission considering his nine years on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (at roughly $450 a day!). “But I can tell you that people, like I said, fish for the opportunity, it’s not really about filling coolers,” he added.
And there’s your answer Keegan; some guy from New York who claims to have all the answers says it really is okay for you to play with your food; even if doing so greatly reduces the future food supply!