Legislative Oh No!

Fisheries management should be kept out of the hands of politicians!

mcmurray-ablie4It is not my usual routine, but I was going over all the bills that have been filed in Massachusetts for the current session. Initially, I was looking for a bill to promote seafood marketing by the state government. Ya, really! More on that next week. What I came across was even more concerning. The fact is that I was completely startled by the number of bills filed and the subject matter. I’d list some of them, but you’d think that I was making them up.

The bill that caught my attention was H663, An Act to establish the Department of Marine Fisheries and Resources. As I read through this lengthy bill, it became apparent to me that there could some real problems with this. After a discussion about the history of this bill with the Director of Marine Fisheries for MA, I had a better understanding of how this got where it is and also a clearer picture of some of the problems that I feared.

When this bill was first introduced, it would have basically modernized the current Department of Fish and Game by pulling out the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and placing it in a Department of Fisheries and Oceans along with Coastal Zone Management, the Seaport Council and a few other odds and ends programs related to ocean resources. The new department would have been headed by a Commissioner, but, most importantly, it would have left the DMF basically in tact with a Director at its head and with some separation from the “political process.” The current appointment process that has some buffer from the whims of politicians would remain in tact. Where this department type of structure has been put in place in other states, it has worked reasonably well. While the Commissioner overseeing this Department would be subject to the political appointment process, they would likely be someone with someone with interests more focused on marine issues rather than the whole arena of fish and wildlife.

What H663 proposes is substantially different. There would be changes in how the Director of DMF is appointed; making that position more susceptible to the political process and potentially changing how marine resources are managed in MA. Marine resource management in the hands of politicians is not a good idea. There needs to be some level of insulation for those making hard decisions about long-term sustainability. That exists under the current structure and would exist under the original proposal for this legislation.

I guess that only good news is that this bill has yet to gain any real traction. We need to make sure that it does not in its current form. Let’s push to get its first iteration back into the legislative hopper. It could be the way to go.

On a tragic note, the recreational fishing community lost a good friend on 7 January. Steven James, who headed the Stellwagon Bank Charterboat Association, Boston Big Game Club and ran the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark died when the skiff he and two others were duck hunting in overturned in very frigid conditions. Steven had run the tournament for 27 years and was one of the recreational community members who took the time to attend fisheries meetings and contact legislators. What this community needs is many more Steven James. He will be missed.


"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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