A group of Galveston charter boat captains is protesting an international company over tensions about fishery management regulations and lobbying the company has done for changes to those regulations.
The latest tension is part of a wider disagreement among anglers about how certain fisheries, including the popular red snapper, should be managed.
About a dozen local charter company boat captains so far have sold their Yamaha motors and replaced them with different brands to protest Yamaha Motor Co., a multinational company based in Japan that makes and sells outboard motors and boats, among other products.
The company had advocated for changes to the federal fishing management law that would roll back some of the principals that helped rebuild once-depleted fisheries and lead to unsustainable practices, said Scott Hickman, owner of Circle H Outfitters, a charter fishing company.
“We had turned the corner and rebuilt these fisheries,” Hickman said. “Now, companies like Yamaha are funding bad legislation that would roll back the conservation aspects of the act.”
A spokesman for Yamaha Motor Co. said the company would not support legislation that could lead to overfishing. He wasn’t aware of the Galveston protest against Yamaha motors, but said he knew the bill had resistance.
The company pushed for the changes because they would update how data is collected about the fishery and extend the length of recreational seasons, which is good for business, said Martin Peters, a senior manager for government relations and communications for Yamaha Marine Group.
Peters argued the proposal and its changes had been widely misinterpreted.
“Seventy percent of those who boat, fish,” Peters said. “When the majority of our customers cannot fish in the Gulf, that’s a problem that matters to us. That’s why the Modern Fish Act matters to us.”
The current system is based on the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a law passed in 1976 introducing federal fishery management after decades of overfishing. The law has been overhauled a few times to address management changes and particularly overfishing.
In recent years, red snapper fishery management in particular has come under scrutiny, particularly from recreational anglers because of short federal fishing seasons. Federal waters start 10 miles offshore and extend out 200 miles.
Until recently, recreational anglers had been restricted to federal recreational seasons, which had been shortened to as few as three days. A new pilot program beginning this month extended the red snapper recreational fishing season in federal waters to about 80 days and put its enforcement under state management. The season is year-round in state waters.
Recreational angler groups, including the Coastal Conservation Association, and other interests affiliated with those industries, including Yamaha, have been seeking changes to the act through both amendments to the law and a new law proposed in the U.S. Senate called the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017.
Environmental groups and many for-hire charter and commercial fishing groups argue the proposal would undo important requirements to promote sustainable fishing, including science-based timelines for rebuilding stocks and annual catch limits.
“Fisheries conservation has been a bipartisan success story,” said Margaret Kran-Annexstein, a campaign director for the environmental group Mighty Earth. “Unfortunately, now it’s looking like these special interests are pushing for destructive policies.”
The law has worked to regulate and recreational anglers are starting to see longer seasons as the fisheries rebuild, Hickman said.
“I don’t want to go back to the bad old days,” Hickman said. “Now we’re enjoying these longer seasons and we don’t have to run as far out in the Gulf and burn fuel for catch. It’s crazy to think we’d move all the conservation benefits.”
Mike Short, a Galveston captain who owns Get Hooked Charters, removed the Yamaha motors on several of his boats in protest of the company’s lobbying. Short supported longer recreational seasons, but thought recreational anglers should be held to enforcement standards for catch limits like other sectors, he said.
“Yamaha is sticking their nose where they shouldn’t,” Short said. “Their job is to build and sell motors. There’s plenty of fish out there, they just need to let the government do what they do to manage the fishery.”