Sector seperation debate intensifies in Gulf

Twice in the past two years, members and supporters of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) have successfully united coastwide opposition to sector separation at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.  While literally thousands of recreational fishermen responded to calls opposing the various sector separation mechanisms proposed under a multitude of versions since 2012, the Gulf Council is again entertaining proposals pushed by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and its well-funded investors.

“Once again we are asking all recreational fishermen who fish the Gulf of Mexico to speak up and in staunch opposition to this treacherous scheme to tear our community apart,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. “This is nothing but a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy aimed at minimizing our ability to fight back against a broken system and incomplete recreational data collection.”

In a  widely circulated email bulletin this past January, Donofrio encouraged anglers to speak out against sector separation, explaining how the federal government is using the regional council process to divide the saltwater angling community into have’s and have not’s, without any reasonable harvest data to guide their decision.  “The Commerce Department and its National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is allowing the recreational fishing sector to be ripped apart piece by piece, without ever meeting their congressional mandate to provide better data,” he said at the time.

Earlier this week, the Gulf Council’s Red Snapper Advisory Panel voted 6 to 5 in a roll call to maintain the unity of the recreational fishing sector, supporting status quo in Amendment 40.  Based on the long history of public comment in opposition of sector separation and the advisory panel’s vote in opposition to sector separation, RFA members have a hard time understanding why the Council continues wasting time, resources and money in trying to advance such an unpopular issue.

“There’s another round of public hearings in the Gulf of Mexico starting on Monday, and anglers and business owners need to get active, this time by submitting comments in-person, directly to these managers,” Donofrio said.  “We acknowledge that there are huge problems that need to be addressed in this fishery, but most are the result of mandates contained within the Magnuson Stevens Act, and sector separation is absolutely not the answer.

“The real solution lies in the hands of our legislators,” he added.

As RFA has frequently pointed, EDF activists who would like to see individual fish tags implemented across the recreational fishing spectrum are continuing to push their agenda through the council process, despite thousands of anti-sector separation comments received by the Gulf Council and Commerce Department.

On July 24, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced the award of a $100,000 grant from its Fisheries Innovation Fund (a program launched in 2010 with funding from NOAA Fisheries, the Walton Family Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) towards EDF’s efforts to create a catch share program for head boats.  Details of the grant reveal “this project could lead to the implementation of first large-scale recreational catch shares management in the Gulf of Mexico.”

“The key thing to remember on this sector separation scam is this; the Gulf Council tabled sector separation after I laid on the podium, as part of the public record, copies of over 400 pages of comments against sector separation,” warned RFA member Capt. Tom Hilton of Texas in January. “By giving them 1-1/2 years to gather signatures from customers going fishing on charter boats each morning, we can expect the EDF-funded captains to come out in full force with reams of paper supporting sector separation, count on it.”

“Radical fleet reduction is the goal,” said RFA Panhandle member Capt. Chip Blackburn of Mexico Beach, FL. “First headboats, next will be charter for-hire, next will be the rest of recreational fishermen.”

“Once the recreational sector is divided, the environmental business leaders and their fish shareholders hope to move forward with their fish tag concept so that the only way anyone can fish for red snapper, grouper or sea bass is by purchasing a harvest tag for each fish you plan to take,” Donofrio said. “Just about any fisherman you meet who tells you that sector separation and intersector trading in the Gulf of Mexico probably already own shares of grouper or red snapper, and simply sees you as a future customer.”

Back in January, RFA encouraged sector separation opponents to submit comments directly to the federal government following the release of the public comment portion on Christmas Eve of 2013, in a move clearly designed to minimize response.  Members of the RFA Florida Panhandle chapter are encouraging anglers to attend the upcoming hearings in person.

Go to the link below to send comments directly NMFS –

RFA urges individual anglers and business owners to make their comments unique – view other comments including RFA’s most recent letter  in the links below.

Click here to view various comments received since Christmas morning of 2013.

Click here to view RFA’s letter to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. 

The following public hearings will all begin at 6 p.m. local time.  RFA is actively encouraging those able to attend to do so.  

August 4, 2014

Hilton Galveston Island Hotel

5400 Seawall Boulevard

Galveston Island, TX


Sirata Beach Hotel

5300 Gulf Boulevard

St. Petersburg Beach, FL


August 5, 2014

Plantation Suites & Conference Center

1909 State Highway 361

Port Aransas, TX


August 6, 2014

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
3111 Loop Road

Orange Beach, AL


August 7, 2014

Renaissance Mobile Riverview Hotel

64 S. Water Street

Mobile, AL


August 12, 2014

Holiday Inn Select

2001 Martin Luther King Blvd.

Panama City, FL


August 18, 2014

Hyatt Place Baton Rouge

6080 Bluebonnet Blvd.

Baton Rouge, LA


August 19, 2014

Courtyard by Marriott Gulfport

1600 E. Beach Blvd.

Gulfport, MS


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