January 18, 2012 Richmond Hill, Georgia
A relatively small gathering of the coastal fishermen attended the informational meeting of the DNR/CRD concerning proposed changes to the Georgia Code Title 27. I counted no more than fifty in the crowd with a large contingent from the CCA of Savannah. Doug Haymans was the moderator but the Coastal Resources Division director, Spud Woodward, was there, too.
Doug proceeded to present the case for change via a PowerPoint presentation, then a question session was to follow with a final comments session to wrap-up the meeting. Speed of change and the vital interests of the saltwater fishing management implementation was the focus point of the presentation. The fragmented management of a number of saltwater species was pointed out as an impediment to that management process. The cold winter toll on the seatrout population was cited as an example. But the basis of the shift lies with a process that encompasses a broad cross section of Georgia representatives with divergent interests far afield from coastal saltwater interests. The new plan would vest the power in the DNR director and his board of DNR directors and establish a new saltwater finfish advisory board. There would be no mandate for the DNR to listen to and take into account the thoughts of the new advisory board, but as a matter of administrative policy, they would as an internal matter.
Reference was made to the Georgia Administrative Procedures Act and the requirements of hearing and accountability thereto as a safeguard. The review and approval of all administrative actions and rule changes was to remain subject to the veto of the legislature in the final implementation.
The organizational table would be as follows
Board of DNR: Voting
Advisory Councils: Non-voting
Including a new Saltwater Finfish Council to be appointed by the DNR itself via a vetting and application process
This is for day to day regulation with an ultimate veto power by the Georgia Legislature.
Two members of the legislature were in attendance and introduced as
Representatives Ron Stephens R Savannah, and Jason Spenser R Woodbine.
A round of questions by the audience was intermingled with statements both on and off the topic at hand. Here is my take on the presentation and the topics and rationale as presented.
The shift was touted to give us a better representation of the coastal conditions of saltwater fish and take the impute of upcountry, inland representatives out of the mix. The DNR board under the director was cited as a more representative group for the decision process. But I say nay. It is a mere economy of scale or mirror image of the legislature as a whole since all areas of Georgia are represented on that board. So the built in lack of direct interest of the governed remains the same. It just means a small diverse group to manipulate.
As far as the oversight by veto of the legislation is concerned, that too is flawed by virtue of the fact that the legislature is only in session for forty two days a year and actions by the new arrangement would have to wait for a veto until that time.
Next, there was reference to the fine job done with freshwater fish management. To debunk that statement I agreed with, it is true, but saltwater fish are a whole different kettle in that they are all wild and no stocking is done to gauge the biomass of them in the coastal rivers and sounds. Computer formulas to crunch the collected data is all the science that is available, while with freshwater fish a count of the fish includes the stocking process as a finite process for the determination of that science of the total biomass. That is why the success of the management has been so great. It is the stocking process that has led to that success, not closures and bag limits.
Until a stocking process is established, negative management will be the only tool available for salt-water fish. What we have is comparing apples to oranges and a trap for the gullible.
Aside The reason for the failure of the Peach State Initiative Redfish stocking Plan is that fingerlings were released to be gobbled up by mature fish. Pairs of mature fish must be released to reproduce in the wild just as mature pairs of deer and turkeys have been to reproduce naturally. The only tool currently available to the DNR for recovery of seatrout is a closure to allow the natural regeneration process to take effect.
I pro offered a solution to the present so-called dilemma by not allowing the current DNR board to vote on saltwater fish management matters due to the cross section lack of interest in those matters and or knowledge thereof.
I suggested that the new finfish council be allowed to vote on the regulations as interested stakeholders who live on the coast and fish. That way we have a vested interest in controlling our own fishing destiny. I offered that modification directly to the audience and the two state representatives in attendance. The implementation of the rules would still be subject to a veto of the legislature at large and provide a legislative safety net.
The six coastal counties from Chatham to Camden would select two delegates for that Saltwater Finfish Council for a total of twelve to oversee and approve the management findings of the DNR staff. They would report to the DNR director on a limited scope of saltwater fishing management issues only.
A proportional mix of recreational and commercial fishermen would be mandated by a requirement for the council. That would eliminate the bias of selection by the powers in charge and give us stakeholder status with voting rights. Again, the current DNR board is comprised of all counties of Georgia including those not on the coast that are removed from the interest of saltwater fishing.
My recommendations would give Georgia saltwater fishermen a voice in the final determination of the management of our coastal resources and not a mere cry in the wilderness.
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