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Florida needs a voice in the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee

By Staff | Nov 24, 2009

Florida is fortunate to have both of our U.S. senators Bill Nelson and George LeMieux on the Senate Commerce Committee, overseeing marine fisheries issues, but Florida is not represented on the equally important House Natural Resources Committee.

Important federal fisheries law is going to affect lots of jobs and billions of dollars in Florida’s economy. Florida is unique. We are the only state that borders the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, with a lot riding on wise management of fisheries in these regions.

Recreational saltwater fishing alone has a $5.3 billion impact on Florida’s economy, and 54,500 jobs depend on it. Commercial saltwater fishing contributes $1.2 billion to the economy and supports 12,900 jobs not to mention freshwater fishing, worth another $2.4 billion and 24,800 jobs.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, last amended by Congress in 2007, directs how the federal government is required to manage saltwater fisheries. With Florida being such a major player in the industry, these federal management decisions greatly affect our state and citizens. It’s critical for us to have a more direct voice in federal law that affects marine fisheries.

While we strongly support efforts to restore and protect all of our natural resources for the long term, the unintended consequence of the Magnuson-Stevens Act is that it will result in rapid closures of numerous fisheries at the same time. The result for Florida is likely to be a blow to one of the most important and unique components of our economy.

Florida is the fishing capital of the world with more world-record fish catches than any other state and more than any other country. More anglers come to Florida to fish than anywhere else in the world. Multiply the number of anglers by the days they fish and the total is 23 million fishing days per year.

In the Atlantic, recreational anglers in Florida’s waters bag almost all of the black grouper and two-thirds of the gag grouper. They also catch almost 90 percent of the red snapper and 43 percent of the vermilion snapper.

Meanwhile, in the Gulf, almost 100 percent of red and gag grouper and 47 percent of recreational red snapper come from Florida.

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee oversees all saltwater fisheries and wildlife issues for the U.S. House of Representatives. Forty-nine representatives out of the 435-member House serve on the committee. California has seven seats on it, and all of the U.S. territories sit on it. But of the seven coastal states in the Southeast, Florida is one of four states that do not have a seat.

We’re playing in the big leagues here; we need a slugger to step up to the plate. As chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, I applaud our congressional delegation’s diligence in protecting Florida’s interests. I am thankful that both of our senators serve on the Senate committee responsible for marine fisheries issues.

I urge Florida’s congressional delegation to push for one or more of our representatives to serve on the House Natural Resources Committee. We need champions in both houses.