Testimony Submitted to the
Natural Resources Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Capt. Mike Jennings, For‐Hire Recreational Fisherman and
Owner of Cowboy Charters, Freeport, TX
President, Charter Fishermen's Association
August 25, 2012
My name is Captain Mike Jennings and I am the President of the Charter Fishermen's
Association, representing Charter Captains and Private Recreational Members throughout the
Gulf States. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today in support of achieving sustainable
and accountable fisheries in a way that will increase all user groups’ access to our nation’s
natural resources. The most effective way to reach these goals is to ensure that
congressionally‐created Regional Fishery Management Councils have the flexibility to explore
all management options available. Restrictions from Washington, D.C. on what management
options we can and cannot try could devastate our industry.
I have been a licensed charter boat captain fishing the Gulf of Mexico off Texas for over 25
years. I grew up fishing Texas’s inshore and offshore waters and I am proud to make a living by
taking my clients fishing and giving them access to the fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact,
the for‐hire industry in the Gulf of Mexico provides access to millions of fishermen every year
who cannot afford their own boats, live far away or who want to fish with an experienced
captain. This year my boats took more than 1500 people out to fish in the Gulf. Our customers
come from all over the country and are a large part of the economic machine that supports
thousands of small businesses like mine and is a primary driver of our coastal communities.
Several species of fish that are critical to the recreational fishing industry in the Gulf have
suffered from fishing effort in years past that has put a strain on the overall populations and are
subject to increasingly restrictive management measures. Fishing seasons have gotten shorter
and bag limits have gotten smaller. These factors make it very difficult for charter boat
operators like me to stay in business. The service we provide to our clients is access to ocean
fisheries, but in recent years government regulations have prevented us from providing this
access. Either the seasons are closed, in which case going fishing is not even an option, or the
size and bag limits are so restrictive that clients cannot justify the expense of going fishing.
These increasingly stringent measures are blocking public access to fishery resources, and in the
process hurting our businesses and local economies.
We can't go back to the days when unrestricted fishing crashed important stocks, but we can't
watch our seasons get shorter and shorter while bag limits get smaller and smaller.
Fortunately, there are solutions that can simultaneously provide increased access to our fishery
while also providing for the long‐term conservation of those resources. There is flexibility in the
existing Magnuson‐Stevens Act that can move us towards that increased access as these fish
stocks rebound. In fact, we believe that it is critically important to maintain the integrity of the
Magnuson‐Stevens Act (MSA) to enable continued, long‐term access to this valuable resource.
Congress needs to leave the MSA alone. Rather than amend the MSA Congress should:
*Ensure there is sufficient funding for fisheries science rather than creating loopholes
*Allow fisheries managers to use all management tools that might benefit the fishery, and
*Protect valuable habitat that is now in place in the Gulf of Mexico.
Legislation was recently introduced that would exempt or limit fisheries from the use of basic
fisheries management practices, including the setting of annual catch limits (ACLS) and
extending rebuilding timelines. In 2012 NMFS reviewed more stocks than ever before, including
numerous stocks in the Gulf of Mexico and we strongly support funding for stock assessments
and fishery independent surveys. But similar to other regions with a large number of managed
species, traditional population assessments are not always available to inform the setting of
ACLs in the Gulf.
In those cases, management is based on information that can be obtained without complex and
resource‐intense models, such as fishery catches, species life span and discard mortality just to
name a few. These are all essential pieces of information needed for population assessments,
along with other information about the biology and population trends of a species in question.
It is a myth that a fishery can only be managed with complex population assessments. Good
management systems are adaptable and are designed to accommodate a range of
There continues to be a push for fishery managers to sacrifice long‐term sustainability for short
term gain. There have been numerous legislative attempts to extend rebuilding time frames for
US fish stocks. In some cases these efforts could extend rebuilding almost indefinitely.
Currently, the law requires stocks to be rebuilt in ten years but includes sufficient flexibility and
takes into account the biology of the stocks. In fact, over half of rebuilding plans extend past
the 10 year time line. Some Pacific Rockfish species have rebuilding timelines that exceed 70
years. Healthy and rebuilt fish stocks are a critical component of healthy coastal economics. In
fact, according to NMFS, fully rebuilding US fish stocks would generate $31 billion in revenue
and create 500,000 new jobs.
The law offers ample flexibility in determining rebuilding time lines and setting catch limits, but
we need additional flexibility to try different management approaches. Traditional methods
simply aren't working. We would like to explore the possibility of alternative management
approaches on the local level as afforded us by the MSA. We see no reason to limit any option
provided to the Charter Industry or any other user group that is currently allowed under law.
Those alternatives may include sector allocations or even Limited Access Privilege Programs,
(LAPP) if the user group feels this is in their best interest.
Limited Access Privilege Programs, (LAPP) may not be appropriate for all fisheries and all
fishermen. For example, we do not believe they should be used to manage private anglers. But
the Charter Industry should have the option to explore them if they see fit. Under the
Magnuson‐Stevens Act, the regional fishery management councils now have the option to
implement a LAPP where the stakeholders in a fishery want such a program. Here in the Gulf of
Mexico any new LAPP is subject to a fishermen referendum and must be approved by a
majority of the active participants in the fishery before it can be implemented. No other fishery
management program requires that level of fishermen input.
There have been numerous attempts, and some successes, to prohibit our right to work on
options for our industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Today’s current management system is failing
our industry and failing the Fisherman who seeks to access it. Alternative Management Systems
can be useful in some fisheries. For example, the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Commercial ITQ
program may not be appropriate for others, such as private anglers. Regardless, it is not up to
Congress to decide what tools fisheries managers and fishermen can and cannot use in their
fisheries. We need to let fishermen determine what tools work best for them. The Magnuson‐
Stevens Act was set up in a manner that allows local issues to be managed at the local level.
Congress should allow that process to take place.
One of the top priorities for recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico today is maintaining
the Rigs to Reef program. Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas production platforms were
originally designed and built to provide our nation with energy. However these structures have
become critical habitat for many types of marine life and are also a valuable asset for
recreational fishing and diving. The federal Rigs to Reefs program successfully allows removal of
hazardous materials while allowing the useful habitat to remain and has been working great for
decades. Many businesses and user groups have come to rely on the structures, which have
improved our quality of life and ability to enjoy our Gulf of Mexico.
Unfortunately, recent changes to federal policy are causing beneficial habitat to be destroyed
at a huge cost to our communities and the Gulf ecosystem. The Department of Interior
announced on September 15, 2010 that it would begin enforcing a long‐dormant rule requiring
rigs to be removed within five years from the time they cease production. This has sped up the
process of removing non‐producing rigs, regardless of their value as fish habitat. As a result,
much habitat has been lost and continuing to remove more rigs will harm our businesses.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is also expressed concern about the method
and rate of oil and gas platform removal. The Council has sent a series of letters asking the
agencies responsible for rig removal to reconsider the use of explosives to remove rigs because
explosives are known to kill fish dwelling near those structures. The Council also asked that the
rate of rig removal be slowed or discontinued until more information is gathered regarding the
effects of Structure removal on the fishery. We strongly support the Council in these efforts.
Sustainable fisheries provide seafood to America’s dinner plate, public access for sportfishing
enthusiasts, and long‐term economic health for fishermen, and our coastal communities.
Congress is pushing to take steps, encouraged by antiquated thinking by a few "leave us alone"
fishermen of old, who are willing to trade the long‐term sustainability of our coastal
communities for shortsighted personal and political gain. Current fishing rules hurt anglers,
fishing businesses, and our nation’s fisheries by severely limiting fishing with short or even
closed seasons and promoting wasteful discards due to outdated management practices, but
this is solved by giving fishermen management flexibility and not through rolling back
conservation provisions and creating management loopholes.
The CFA sees our role in this fishery as a position of providing more access to the average
American who just simply has no other avenue or opportunity to fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
Current management practices are stripping the American public of this access. We also pledge
to work to meet the mandates set by Congress through the promotion of fishery management
practices that are beneficial to the American public, the fishery in general as well as the fishing
industry. Now should be the time when Congress is giving us more tools to manage our
fisheries, not less. The Charter Fisherman’s Association looks forward to working with Regional
Councils, Congress and the Administration towards long‐term solutions, including any and all
options that may increase fishing time, improve businesses, and ensure a sustainable fishery.
We need all the options at our disposal and we need to allow the user groups to work within
the guidelines of the MSA at the council level to best manage our fisheries.