In an April 8, 2014, letter to Mr. Douglas Boyd, Chairman of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, newly appointed NMFS Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Eileen Sobeck confirmed two major breakthroughs on the agency’s handling of the ELB program that are a direct consequence of the persistent efforts of the Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA) to protect shrimp fishermen’s interests. http://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/AAresponse_GulfCouncil_shrimpelb_folder_14-035495_4_8_141.pdf
Ms. Sobeck’s letter was in reply to a letter from the Gulf Council sent to her at the specific request of SSA urging the agency to reconsider several important elements of their new ELB program. http://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Gulf-Council-ltr-to-Sobeck-shrimp-ELB-Funding-02-24-14.pdf
First, Ms. Sobeck confirmed that in response to the Council’s letter and a Congressional directive set forth in the FY 2014 appropriations conference report, the agency will roll-back the agency’s controversial cost sharing plan and “reimburse vessel permit holders for properly installed electronic logbook units”. The Congressional directive cited by Ms. Sobeck was a direct result of SSA’s drafting input and close work with the Senate Appropriations Committee, and particularly with its Ranking Member Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and his staff.
According to SSA Executive Director, John Williams, “This is a great victory for the shrimp industry. SSA has strenuously opposed this cost sharing plan every step of the way ever since it was proposed over one year ago. We’ve delivered our arguments and analyses in numerous meetings with the agency both at the regional level and headquarters– as well as an active participant in the Gulf Council’s Shrimp Advisory Panel and working directly with members of the Gulf Council. We deeply appreciate the support we have received from Senator Shelby and others in Congress, the Council as well as the positive response taken by Ms. Sobeck. But we’ll be watching closely to see what kind of reimbursements our fishermen actually receive.”
A second positive result expressed in Ms. Sobeck’s letter is her confirmation that the agency will indeed conduct a transition program using both the original ELB units side-by-side with the agency’s new, cell-phone based technology. This too has been a primary objective of SSA’s aggressive efforts with the agency, Council and Congress. Up to this point, the agency had indicated its intent to shut-down the units installed and operated by LGL Ecological Associates under Dr. Benny Gallaway’s program at the end of 2013. In response, NSC sent a letter to Senator Shelby in January 2014 thanking him for his support for the shrimp industry and urging him to further direct the agency to conduct such a side-by-side program. http://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/shelbyletterthanks1-21-14.pdf
“Our industry has always had a high degree of confidence in Benny’s work and so did the agency. This was a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But that’s what happened. We are very pleased the agency has finally come around on this.” John Williams said.
SSA’s concerns centered on the potential unreliability of the agency’s new cell-phone technology which has only been tested on 10 shrimp vessels. “The worst thing that could happen is an interruption of the data which would place the shrimp industry in real peril of being shut down for failing to meet the requirements for sea turtle protection under the Endangered Species Act, or for failing to meet the agency’s regulatory requirements for reducing red snapper bycatch under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Maintaining this data is central to meeting those legal requirements and to our fishery’s future survival. We continue to believe the collection and analysis of this data is a fundamental federal responsibility and the shrimp industry should never have been used as a means to solve the agency’s budget problems.” added Mr. Williams.