Florida Sen. LeMieux Spars with NOAA Chief Over ‘Sustainable’ Fish Limits – and the Size of Red Snapper

Karen Schuberg | March 4, 2010 | 11:30pm EST
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NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco (Wikipedia Commons)

(CNSNews.com) – Florida’s newest U.S. senator told the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Wednesday that the NOAA is wrong about the declining size and number of red snapper fish in Florida.
Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) told NOAA chief Dr. Jane Lubchenco that her agency’s statistics do not match fishermen reports regarding the size and number of red snapper fish.
“If the science is bad, and we’re making draconian decisions based upon bad science, or science that we can’t believe in, that’s affecting people’s lives -- that’s wrong,” LeMieux said Wednesday at a Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard subcommittee hearing on NOAA's FY2011 budget request for fisheries enforcement programs and operations.
Appointed last fall to replace the retiring Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), LeMieux challenged the director to come to Florida to gather accurate data before imposing job-killing regulations which would dry up fisheries.
“We’re putting in regulations based upon science that people don’t believe in that (are) putting people out of work in historic industries,” LeMieux said. “The fishing industry in this country is as old as this country is.  And it is a huge way of life for people in Florida."
LeMieux sought to dispel the notion that fishermen are not invested in protecting fishing populations.
“Fishermen care about the fish stock because it’s their livelihood,” he said.  “So they are very concerned about making sure that the fish stock is healthy, and they are for regulations that are reasonable in order to preserve the fish stock because it’s their way of life.”
In her opening statement, along with a $5.6 billion budget request for FY 2011 -- $806 million up from the FY 2010 enacted level – Lubchencho called for a National Catch Share Program to “provide a national framework to develop, manage, and improve catch share programs in fisheries across the nation.”
The goals of the NOAA, the administrator said, include “ending overfishing, improving fisheries management and putting fisheries on a path to sustainability and profitability.” 
To accomplish this goal, Lubchenco said he supported measures “that will help sustain local communities while restoring a number of vital fisheries stocks and habitats.”
During the hearing, LeMieux stressed the need for valid, accurate, and independently reviewed data.
“I think we can all agree that we need the money to be spent on getting the proper scientific analysis and getting independent analysis so that we know that the decisions that are being made are appropriate, because the word from the fishermen is that there is a huge disparity as to what the statistical information is saying versus their experiential -- experience, what they’re finding when they’re actually going out and fishing,” he said.
LeMieux said Florida fishermen report seeing more red snapper than they have seen in decades.
“And yet there’s these moratoriums on fishing that are preventing them from operating their charter boats which is putting them out of business.  And these people are really hanging by a thread,” he said.
Lubchenco challenged the claim that red snapper are prospering and numerous, insisting that the data on this matter is solid.
“I think with the challenge with something like red snapper is that the calculations about what is a sustainable level of fishing, take into account how -- what size the fish are," she said. "And what many of the fishermen are seeing are lots and lots of younger fish and are assuming that that means that they are recovered and that there are plenty out there. And, in fact, it’s important for those younger fish to get larger and reproduce for the future health of the fishery."
But LeMieux again invited the administrator to come to Florida to take stock of the red snapper population.
“I want to renew in closing my offer to you to come down to Florida and let’s go on a fishing boat and see these red snapper because what my fishermen are telling me is not only are there many red snapper, but there are big red snapper, not just the juvenile fish,” he said.
LeMieux continued, “In fact, people who’ve been fishing for 45 years say they’ve never seen as many in quantity or in size to the point -- and I think this is important for us to understand the practicality of how fishing works. So they’re not allowed to catch red snapper. So they go out on their fishing boat where they got a group trying to catch something else. And all they’re catching is red snapper. So they have to throw the fish back because they’re not supposed to be catching red snapper.”
“So the practical effect is that they’re trying to catch around the red snapper, and there’s so many of them it’s difficult to do. So practically I’m not even sure we’re achieving the effect we want to anyway, assuming the science was good,” he said.
Lubchenco ended the exchange saying she would take LeMieux up on the offer to come to Florida and that there needed to be better communication between scientists and fishermen.
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