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July 23, 2012

Exclusive Interview: Obama Talks Fisheries

Q&A with President Obama on key fisheries issues

In May, both the Obama and Romney campaigns agreed to answer a series of questions on fisheries issues/policy vital to U.S. recreational fishermen as part of an exclusive interview to be published in the September/October issue of Sport Fishing. By June, both campaigns informed us that their presumptive candidate and staff were working on their answers, and promised we would have them by our absolute deadline. Unfortunately, neither campaign kept that promise, as we received neither response in time for publication in SF. We then informed both campaigns that we could still get their thoughts on the record and into public view via our web site.

The result:

The Obama campaign provided us with the president’s official response, and you can read it here.

The Romney campaign said it had decided to decline this opportunity. That is why you are seeing only one of the presumptive candidate’s answers.

It had been our primary objective from the start, as we pointed out to each campaign, to let America’s 12 million saltwater anglers see both presumptive candidates’ responses to critical fisheries issues.

Each campaign had the same opportunity to speak to us. And we informed both campaigns very clearly that while we hoped both would respond, we would run only one response if that was all we could get.

We regret that both presidential campaigns didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, but you still have the unique chance here to read (and comment on) one candidate’s thoughts on vital fisheries issues.

Issue 1 - Red Snapper Quotas

Background: Red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and black sea bass in the South Atlantic have become iconic to many recreational fishermen as examples of federal fisheries management gone completely off the tracks. For some years, empirical evidence — and, more recently, statistical evidence as well — has established beyond doubt the great abundance of red snapper in the Gulf, where ironically, anglers faced their shortest season ever, a mere 40 days. Now Louisiana is moving to defy federal law and join Texas in setting separate, longer seasons in its waters. Black sea bass stocks in the South Atlantic are responding to management and rapidly rebuilding. As with snapper in the Gulf, recreational anglers are encountering them more frequently and catching their meager quota far more quickly, resulting in long closures of the fishery and compounding an already difficult offshore angling environment reeling from closures.

What, if anything, would your administration do to a) give managers the resources (funding) to assess fish stocks such as red snapper/black sea bass as well as the ability to manage them according to current conditions; and b) reduce the apparent disparity between rebounding stocks and the opportunity anglers are being given to participate in those fisheries?

OBAMA: The long-term health of ocean fisheries and other marine life allows saltwater anglers to enjoy rewarding days on the water, commercial fishermen to earn a good living, and residents living along our coasts to experience a good quality of life. My administration is committed to finding solutions that can allow anglers to have longer and more predictable seasons. Management based on sound science is the best way to strike a balance between those who rely on these waters today and those who will use them tomorrow. In order to achieve this balance, we are assessing fish stocks more frequently, consulting with fishermen and other local experts, and getting more accurate counts as a result. When science shows increases in catch limits are warranted — as with the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, where we’ve increased the amount of red snapper that fishermen can take every year for the past four years — we have acted swiftly to adjust them.

This administration has also broken new ground to get much more accurate and timely information from and for our recreational fishermen. We have created a new angler-driven initiative, the Marine Recreational Information Program, to count and report marine recreational activities. It will not only produce better estimates, but will do so through a process grounded in transparency, accountability and engagement. My administration is also working with recreational fishing organizations, the country’s leading fishery scientists and state agencies on a bottom-up approach to conserving our fisheries. Through FishSmart, we are helping recreational anglers do what they’ve always been willing to do: adjust their fishing techniques and equipment to conserve fish for the long-term health of their sport and our oceans.

We are also investing in more assessments — doubling funding over the past three years — so we have the most accurate data possible on the health of our fisheries. In doing so, we are working with partners across the country, bringing saltwater anglers into the process of counting the fish in our oceans to contribute to the science that builds our policies. The results of these policies are catch limits that benefit us all and will lead to healthy, sustainable populations.

Issue 2 - Federal Destruction of Gulf Oil Rigs

Background: In 2010, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued an order that nonproducing oil rigs be removed from the Gulf of Mexico within five years of meeting the definition of “no longer useful for operations.” Sport Fishing has been particularly outspoken in its opposition to that policy and in support of Sen. David Vitters’ Rigs-to-Reefs bill that would prevent DOI’s “idle iron” directive from immediately removing approximately 650 rigs that already meet that definition — rigs covered with living coral reefs that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council plans to designate as Essential Fish Habitat and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern.

SPORT FISHING: The clock on this issue is ticking: Would your administration intervene in the DOI’s directive in order to protect this marine habitat? If so, when and in what fashion?

OBAMA: My administration has absolutely heard the concerns of recreational fishermen over the “idle iron” policy, and we have convened a number of interagency meetings to review the policy and make adjustments as necessary. Obsolete oil and gas structures can serve as thriving coral reefs that support entire ecosystems, and we know that they also provide some of the most valued recreational fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, abandoned wells are not harmless: Even properly sealed wells can fail over the decades, jeopardizing fish habitats. We are actively engaged with recreational fishing organizations, coastal states, and the oil industry to encourage the reuse of offshore oil and gas structures where appropriate, and to ensure healthy fish and habitats, and abundant fishing opportunities. We are working to address this issue as quickly as possible and are committed to finding a solution.

Issue 3 - National Ocean Policy

Background: Access to fishing has been one of the primary concerns among saltwater recreational anglers for years. They feel particularly threatened by the coastal and marine spatial planning process of the National Ocean Policy established by executive order in 2010, a process in which recreational fishing has not been included as a national priority. There remain gaping uncertainties about what this might portend for sport fishermen, who feel their needs have been ignored, stung by similar disenfranchisement in planning for California’s Marine Life Protection Act and Florida’s Biscayne Bay National Park. The House recently voted to cut off funding for the NOP pending clarifications.

SPORT FISHING: What reassurances regarding a National Ocean Policy and its effect on access to fishing could you offer the recreational-fishing community?

OBAMA: Responsibly managing our nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes will keep them healthy for their users today and tomorrow. We are working to ensure that fishermen can access the local waters they care most about and that those waters support healthy, vibrant populations of fish.

By establishing a National Ocean Policy, I made it a priority of the federal government to ensure a proactive approach to improving the conservation of the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes. We are developing regional plans that bring the states together with regional stakeholders to make sure everyone has the opportunity to enjoy this shared resource, and that residents in each region can tailor its management to suit their local needs. This policy cuts away red tape and redundancy to best serve the local communities that depend on our oceans and waters.

Some claim that this kind of planning is intended to deprive fishermen of access to our ocean waters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, our goal is to allow all users of the ocean — including recreational fishermen — to have a voice in how our ocean waters are managed.

Recreational fishermen have an important role to play in this policy, and we have gone to great lengths to ensure their voices are heard as part of the process. We’ve asked each region to bring fishermen into the decision-making process to create more opportunities for sport fishermen to share what works for them in the parts of the coast they know best.