Ignored Again. Wake Up, Folks!

Once again, New England recreational fishing interests lose in the management process

massdmfSome folks will think that I am into bashing the state of Massachusetts with my health warning comments last week and in this week’s blog. Last week, I felt compelled to let readers know that there may be some health issues with eating certain fish, and the state of Massachusetts doesn’t warn consumers.

This week I am pissed off at the state, in general, and maybe the Division of Marine Fisheries in particular. I assume that most readers are also sport fishermen, and I mean to use that as gender neutral because I think using “anglers” just does not sound right sometimes. So, you also should be pissed off by the action taken this past week in the process to appoint new members to the New England Fishery Management Council.

Why should we all be angry?

That’s simple: Once again, the state is purposefully disregarding the recreational fishing industry and constituents. Basically, they think the recreational users are of no consequence. Just so I am understood, I don’t criticize the state of Massachusetts lightly. I think the folks in the DMF have a very difficult job. Whenever they make a decision, they are likely to make some constituency unhappy. If the decision is fair, I can live with it. In this case, I don’t believe it was. So I hope that I can upset a lot more recreational users upset as well. Let’s face it, we have the numbers to make a lot of bureaucrats, from the corner office on down, uncomfortable.

Stepping back, every year one or more seats are open in every state for membership on the NEFMC. In August of 2013, the seat that I held came open, as I had term limited out. Last spring, the process to fill the seat started. That seat was considered to be a “recreational” seat – certainly the only one held for nine years by someone from the recreational fishing industry. One real contender from that sector attacked the process to get his name on to the list for that seat. He worked hard to be listed as the preferred candidate by being first on the list. This candidate was not someone who showed up at five minutes to 12 and demanded to be on the list. This is a candidate who attends almost every meeting, participates in the debates and makes some reasonable suggestions. So what happened? He did not get first on the list and was not appointed. The appointee, while imminently qualified, was not from the recreational industry. I thought to myself, a lot of folks do not get appointed the first time they try for a seat, so let’s push the same candidate for one of the two seats opening up this year. Yeah, sure!

The governor has to submit the state’s list by March 15, and I got a look at it a few days ago. It represents more salt in the wound. This same candidate not only was not at the top of the list for either of the two in-state seats, he was not on those lists at all. To a greater or lesser extent, the other names on the lists were just fill-ins to meet the requirements of submitting the list, but none had any connection to the recreational community. Now, in all honesty, one candidate is up for re-appointment for one of the two Massachusetts seats. I support that re-appointment, as he has done a very good job. So that leaves only one possibility, and it is obvious that the recreational community did not even rise to the level of having a name anywhere on that list.

What the state did do was to submit some of the same names re-ordered as candidates for at-large seats from neighboring states, and they slipped the recreational candidate into one of those slots. Not even at the top. The whole deal was nothing short of an “up yours!”

Prior to the list coming out, I communicated with the Massachusetts DMF about the seats and the candidates, as I had heard this was about to happen. When I questioned the recreational candidate’s not getting a decent placement on one of the in-state lists, the response was that since the current occupant “is a commercial representative, I would think that seat would be replaced with another commercial representative.” Funny that was not the attitude when my seat became vacant. Does that indicate a difference between commercial and recreational?

What does this mean? Well, first and foremost, the Massachusetts recreational fishing community will have no representation on the NEFMC. But to me, a deeper meaning is that the state is far more worried about the repercussions from the commercial fishing industry than they are from the recreational fishing industry. Rodney Dangerfield said it best: “I don’t get no respect!” Wake up, folks. Demand reasonable representation, because you’re not getting any now. We are the only ones who have the ability and, I hope, the desire, to raise the level of discomfort to the point where this does not happen.

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"Rip" Cunningham, who owned, published and edited Salt Water Sportsman for 32 years, is also an accomplished writer and photographer. Cunningham has received several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Rod and Reel, Gray's Sporting Journal, Australian Boating and the Boston Globe Magazine. Among his many accomplishments, Rip was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year from both the International Game Fish Association, the Coastal Conservation Association of Massachusetts, The Billfish Foundation and Federation of Fly Fishers. "I've earned a living from fishing, and I believe strongly that people with an interest in a given area should give something back,” he says. “It's rewarding every single day." Cunningham received his MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA and his BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has two grown children and four grand children and lives with his wife and hunting dogs in Dover, MA and Yarmouth, ME. When he's not fishing or working through the items on his wife's "honey-do" list, Cunningham does some hunting and skiing.

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