The Great Conspiracy

It’s not all black helicopters and smoke filled rooms.

In last weeks blog as well as previous blogs, I have mentioned “The Great Conspiracy.” What finally dawned on me is that I have not really addressed what I am referring to in any of these blogs. I have done so in other writings.

We’ll have to start back a few years according to the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” so spoken by Vice President Spiro Agnew, but actually written by William Safire. So, according to the proponents of this conspiracy theory, before President Obama was elected, the environmental community led by Pew Environment Group (PEW) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), maybe the Walton Foundation was in there as well, were infiltrating the fisheries management system and positioning the likes of Dr. Jane Lubchenco to become the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after Obama got elected. Somehow they knew the future outcome of the election, but we’ll put that aside. Pretty amazing stuff! They couldn’t have simply guessed right, it had to be some sort of back room deal. Well actually isn’t there a lot of that in politics no matter which side one is on. Ya!!!

Well okay, I’m getting a little sarcastic, but it does take a fairly vivid imagination to pull all the pieces of The Great Conspiracy together. So the environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGO’s) ended up on the right side of the election, which should not be too surprising to anyone, as they tend to be more liberal than conservative in politics. According to the believers Phase 2 was put in place with the confirmation of Dr. Lubchenco and now EDF was running all the Regional Fishery Management Council (RFMC) activities. I must have been on an anomalous RFMC. Yes, we had a Council member that worked for EDF, but I’d be hard pressed to find a major or, for that matter, minor, Council action that had EDF finger prints all over it. Too bad actually as some of the ideas proposed by the Council member made a lot of management sense. Oh, ya, catch shares. Well, we have to rewind the clock on that one as well. The NEFMC began the catch shares discussion in 2001, well before any ENGO infiltration and the rollout of more extensive catch shares was just an extension of that discussion. What happened at the NEFMC may not be typical of what happened at other Councils, but I am familiar enough with other Council actions to know that the ENGO community was not railroading a lot of new Council actions through the system. Was the environmental community part of the Council process? Yes, of course it was. They are one of the three constituent groups represented on the Council.

If we look at inside the Beltway (Washington, DC for those not familiar with the world of politics), the story is different. The ENGO community has been very active in the political process.  In fact, they have been extremely influential in the legislative process. They were able to get much of what they wanted in the Magnusson Stevens Act reauthorization passed in 2006 that included annual catch limits and accountability measures and the continuation of mandated rebuilding periods. This is not meant to be a debate on the merits of those measures, but a discussion about our political system. Let’s face it; the ENGO community has deep pockets to use in pushing for the issues they want enacted. From my standpoint they have been very effective at using that influence to get what they believe in. They have also been effective at working collaboratively. Is that a conspiracy? If it is then organizations like the National Rifle Association, the farm lobby and for that matter all of K Street are involved in serial conspiracies. I am not saying that I agree with all the outcomes. Unless we change the system, they are simply using it to their best advantage. Money talks and BS walks. Do we need to change the system? I tend to think so, but that is a discussion for another time.

I have always wondered what the response would be from those who think that the ENGO community is hell bent on eliminating extractive uses of the ocean environment, if the ENGO’s used all their clout to do what the conspiracy theorists want. Would there still be a hue and cry of conspiracy then? I doubt it. Folks would happily say that is just the way the system works.

Call me crazy, oblivious or naïve, I do not believe that all ENGO’s are out to end fishing. Nor do I support all of their proposed measures. I do believe that most are interested in having sustainable resources for the future. They have some very substantial economic clout and are not afraid to use it. What the recreational fishing industry should do is find a way to partner with them or would some see that as conspiratorial?


"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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