Uncharted Waters for Great Lakes

michigan-fishing
Like zebra mussels, asian carp, and other invasive species, the White House has recently laid the groundwork for a federal takeover of the Great Lakes and its tributaries.  It started with an insult to anglers, and has become what amounts to a jurisdictional breach. How do you feel about someone in Washington, D.C., who may not even fish, and has no personal knowledge of the Great Lakes, deciding fishing regulations and how to manage the largest freshwater fishery in the world?

Last June, the White House created an Interagency Oceans and Great Lakes Policy (IOGLP) Task Force. Without legislative oversight, the feds suddenly included the unique freshwater ecosystem of the Great Lakes under the umbrella of its Oceans Policy Task Force. The original committee was created to deal with marine issues only, such as striped bass and oil spills. But recent inclusion of the Great Lakes under their jurisdiction was a surprise, to say the least.

Leaders from angling organizations met with the new Task Force members to provide input during a brief public comment period that few anglers were aware of. Surprisingly, IOGLP Task Force members had no idea about the Sport Fish Restoration Program and  no clue that anglers contribute $125 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

Although the IOGLP was informed of these vital statistics, nowhere in their subsequent 38 page report was recreational fishing mentioned. Not once.

“There was no mention of the fishery conservation efforts which anglers have led for over 50 years in every state – an environmental success story that has no equal in the world,” said Phil Morlock, Director of Environmental Affairs for Shimano.

Yet, the report declares that it “reflects the requests and concerns of all interested parties.” How anglers were not included as an interested party is a mystery. And it’s tough to get a straight answer because the IOGLP consists of a mind-boggling bureaucracy of 23 agencies, all of whom will now have some supervisory powers over the Great Lakes eco-system. They range from the Department of Defense to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Decision makers will be political appointees, part of a regional planning body to be determined by the IOGLP committee. Furthermore, those in charge will not be required to have any scientific background and will be immuneto (free of)any accountability such as oversight by the legislature.

Since the initial report, Task Force member Dr. Jane Lubchenco of the NOAA has reassured us that the group recognizes the importance of recreational fishing. How this will be addressed is another matter altogether. After the initial report, the IOGLP put together a spatial planning (zoning) report, released in December 2009. It does mention that the Task Force will now effectively manage the recreational fishing that failed to make their radar the first time around. If this makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, there is a reason. The decision making of NOAA administration has come under frequent and heavy fire by  by those most affected by it.

“Under the guise of helping in the management of common resources, an agency of the federal government, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its National Marine Fisheries Service, is transforming the open ocean into an enclosed field — a field one can enter only upon paying a considerable access fee,” stated Carmine Gorga, of The Center for American Studies at Concord.

“Once in the field, strict control is exercised over any and all aspects of the fisheries: seasons allowed, days allowed, zones allowed, species allowed, amounts allowed. These decisions are taken on the basis of obsolete science that is questionable at best, the linear and static conception of the food pyramid,” Gorga said.

An example of what he may be referring to can be found in New Jersey. Despite current information that showed an increasing flounder population, the IOP Task Force used 30 year old data to justify curtailing flounder fishing in New Jersey.  In 1994, the New Jersey flounder fishing season was about 180 days. Today, the feds have inexplicably pruned it to only around forty days.

What if the feds decided to restrict our walleye season in similar fashion? Any comparable, unfounded restrictions on angling in the Great Lakes would strike a monumental blow to anglers and the fishing industry.

The federal government has never had a say-so in the Great Lakes all the way up the shoreline, and certainly not inland into our tributaries. That’s why the language the Task Force employs is concerning. At the very least it confuses the issue of state sovereignty, and at the worst, it threatens it. Historically, states have had management control of the Great Lakes up to three miles out. The feds have only had jurisdiction over international waterways.

Their spatial planning report, released in December, defines federal coastal and marine zones in a new way. It states, “The geographic scope for the Great Lakes would extend from the ordinary high-water mark and include the lakebed, subsoil, and water column.” They do acknowledge that the “submerged land underlying the Great Lakes is entirely under the jurisdiction and ownership of the Great Lakes States.” How big of them! What’s additionally alarming is that they also mandate that “Additional inland areas may be included” within the scope of their power, and, “Inclusion of inland bays and estuaries is essential.”

“We can only guess what this means,” stated Patty Doerr of the American Sportfishing Association. “It is as confusing to you as it is to me.” Our attempts to reach the White House or IOGLP officials for clarification were unsuccessful.

Phil Morlock was a little more to the point, “This should be renamed the White House Task Force on Coastal, Ocean and Inland Water Policy given the true scope of the initiative to include all inland tributaries.”

His concerns are reflected in a letter from the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, expressing concern that the task force decreases state responsibility for natural resources, and hand it off ot the feds.

In addition a request last October from the presidentially appointed members of the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission (GLFC) for clarification from the white house that , “this isn’t a nationalization of our natural resources” has gone unanswered. If the White House isn’t answering questions from the presidential appointees, it is hard to imagine that our concerns as anglers are really making their agenda.

The GLFC doesn’t necessarily interpret the situation as a hostile takeover. “”The intent of this is not to ignore the Great Lakes, it is to include them, but there is a basic lack of understanding about how the Great Lakes are managed,” stated Marc Gaden, GLFC Communications Director and Legislative Liaison.

The scientists of the Great Lakes have generations of experience managing our fisheries, and masterfully engineered the healthy resurrection of fish species that were on the brink of disappearing.  In contrast, the feds have hardly raised an eyebrow over the Asian carp situation.  Clearly, their understanding of the Great Lakes ecosystem is sorely lacking. It’s an easy guess that most of them don’t know the difference between a perch and a pike. How can we trust them to be responsible stewards of a fresh water system like no other on the planet?

Another concerning aspect of this new federal task force is that it makes continual reference to “following the Law of the Sea Convention”, a U.N. agreement that the United States has never formally signed. The Law of the Sea Convention was intended for international waters with completely different environmental issues. Forcing states to apply a system of management not designed for our coastlines, particularly when we have generations of experience managing them, makes no sense. The GLFC has also requested clarification on this subject and received none.

Not all groups are concerned about federal involvement. “We have a long history of successful wildlife management in the Great Lakes,” stated Gildo Tori, director of Public Policy for Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit conservation organization. “I welcome federal funding assistance in restoring and managing wildlife and waterfowl habitat. The idea is to increase communication between agencies. That sort of monetary assistance would be good.”

We agree, but it is worth noting that the IOGLP Task Force makes no mention of a funding source for its many edicts. This new task force stinks like rotten fish of yet another federal government mandate with no financial backing to make it happen.

A bigger question is how will this new Task Force impact fisheries and wildlife management in the Great Lakes? Whatever it is the feds ultimately decide, the citizens and scientists of Michigan may have little recourse if it isn’t to our liking.

We encourage fellow conservationists/environmentalists to make their voices heard. You can start by submitting your opinion on www.keepamericafishing.org. website. You can reach the authors for comments at www.outdoorexplorers.net

About John L. Beath

John Beath is a writer, photographer, videographer, blogger, tackle manufacturer & Captain at Whaler's Cove Lodge in Southeast Alaska. He is also owner of www.halibut.net and host at Lets Talk Outdoors @ www.youtube.com/jbeath
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