During the weekend of Aug. 23 at the 17th annual MBARA kingfish tournament, a reef was dedicated to our congressman Steve Southerland (R-FL, 2nd District) for his unending work for fishermen and the economies of the panhandle of Florida - and for all fishermen in the United States for that matter!
The reef dedicated to Rep. Southerland was donated by Bill Mulligan and Nate Odum, their families and the Mexico Beach Marina as a testament to the work being done by our “Forgotten Coast” congressional fishing champion.
Rep. Southerland also stopped by the Recreational fishing Alliance-(RFA) to show his support for the organization and the work that the RFA is doing in Washington (with the help of Steve Southerland and other Congressmen) to get our fishing seasons back. Of course, this work has made Rep. Southerland a target for the people in organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Pew Environment Group, Oceans Conservancy and others including national political action committee called Oceans Champions based in California - these are groups working to take away our right to fish to give away the resource to a select few fish barons that are directly backed by the environmental organizations (EDF in particular.)
You may have seen articles published many times by Jim Clements or one of his aliases, like Capt. Jims’s Charters-(Capt. Clements he is not a licensed charter captain in the state nor does he have federal Permits as a charter captain, but that didn’t stop him from securing the web domain www.captainjimscharters.com in 2012 and spending $7,500 on anti-Southerland billboards in Panama City, Apalachicola, Crawfordville, and Tallahassee prior to the last election under that particular alias.)
IRS records show that EDF and their political action committee (EDF Action Fund) have invested close to a million dollars during the past 3-1/2 years on establishing their own fishing organizations, including Capt. Clements’ Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, as well as the Gulf Fishermen's Association and South Atlantic Fishermen's Association. Why you ask? In an effort to manipulate the public and legislators into thinking that privatizing our public marine resource is in the best interest of the public. Essentially, the money is being spent to take away our natural resource – the fish – and divvy it all up amongst a few well-connected ‘individual fishing quota’ (IFQ) owners. In fact, EDF has recently gone public with their belief that ‘fish tags’ should be purchased by all fishermen, commercial, charter or head boat operators, even private anglers.
Now thanks to a new program that has already been pushed through the Gulf Council and NOAA by the EDF, Our snapper seasons will be even shorter this coming year and the next. They are giving a portion of our red snapper to a select few head boat operators to fish for year round, while the rest of us fishermen get a 27 day season. Why do we stand by like lambs being led to slaughter and just accept these atrocities? We have to join together and fight back, or soon, we will not be fishing at all!
Imagine what Panhandle fishing will look like in the future when the average angler will be forced to purchase a ‘share’ in order to go out and catch a snapper or grouper and possibly any other popular species of fish down the road.
In spite of the EDF-backed push to stop recreational fishing as we know it today, RFA is working closely with Rep. Steve Southerland and others in Washington to stop this effort dead in its tracks. RFA is really expanding on both coasts of Florida now, with Rick Hale pushing hard for members in his hometown of Jacksonville and all the way south, while representing the Gulf coast we have Capt Buddy Bradham in the Tampa area and the chairman of Florida West Coast RFA and myself chairing our Forgotten Coast efforts in the Port St. Joe-Mexico Beach area.
Nationally, the RFA is represented by Board-elect Nate Odum of Mexico Beach Marina, as well as Panama City resident and longtime RFA Board member Jamie Wilkinson (along with fellow Floridian Jack Holmes of the Southern Kingfish Association). Together, we are working on gathering fresh ideas for fishermen to build a group large enough to have the loudest voice on Capitol Hill. Much the same as the NRA is for the second amend, the RFA was founded as a political action organization designated a 501(c)(4) with a singular, unchanged mission to protect the rights of saltwater anglers and recreational fishing business owners, while also ensuring that there are plenty of fish!
We want our fishing seasons back – that’s why RFA Florida is asking fellow anglers in the state to join the RFA today, to help keep Rep. Steve Southerland in office, to beat back the environmental groups who are trying to take away our public resource, and to fight for our right to fish in America’s saltwaters!
Tom Adams is a charter boat captain operating out of Port St. Joe