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TBF among group calling for fixes

WASHINGTON — The Billfish Foundation joined a coalition of marine recreational fishing, boating, and conservation organizations and businesses to call on the Obama administration to take immediate action to deal with a crisis in federal fisheries management that has been growing for two decades because federal regulators failed to collect accurate and timely fisheries data or conduct sufficient and frequent stock assessments.

"We believe had the National Marine Fisheries Service received more funding for stock assessments and collection of recreational fishing data over the past 10 years, the current crisis would not have evolved," said Ellen Peel, President of The Billfish Foundation. "This current situation is an example of passing legislation and not funding the essentials to make it meaningful, not punitive."

In a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the International Game Fish Association, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association laid out an initial framework to immediately address serious and escalating problems resulting from inadequate implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the chronic problems that exist within the federal marine fisheries management system.

The coalition emphasizes that there are available administrative actions that can be taken right away to address the concerns of the sportfishing and boating industries and the nation's 13 million saltwater anglers who depend on well-managed, healthy marine fisheries.

Given NOAA's recent ban on recreational fishing for red snapper from North Carolina through Florida and the potential for additional bans on key recreational saltwater fisheries, much of the frustration that exists in the grassroots recreational fishing community over these management decisions has boiled over into organized protests including one held Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

With today's letter, the coalition called upon the administration to:

• Take decisive, immediate action to improve recreational fisheries data by redirecting existing funds and personnel to focus on real-time management data.

• Collect socio-economic data on recreational fishing in the communities most likely to be impacted by near-term or expected fisheries closures.

• Provide federal level direction to the fishery management councils to use common-sense in their management approaches while the administration collects the requisite data to make sound management decisions.

• Develop a recreational fishing program and staff within NMFS commensurate with the national economic contribution of recreational saltwater fishing.

"Stock assessments for recreationally important species have been a lower priority of the National Marine Fisheries Service than is justified by the economic contribution of the recreational fishing community," Peel said. "Recreational fishing accounts for only three percent of the marine finfish harvested by weight, yet it produces 56 percent of the jobs from all saltwater fisheries."

The Billfish Foundation had to provide financial support to get Atlantic billfish stock assessments started two decades ago. TBF also has a long history of funding biological and socio-economic studies in the U.S. and other nations to use in promoting that good billfish conservation pays; the U.S. government has never given this a priority. Billfish management is complicated due to their highly migratory nature that takes the fish across national and international waters.

The coalition's groups look forward to working closely with the Administration and NOAA to implement solutions to effectively deal with our nation's marine fisheries resources.