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How you can engage in the ESA process and actually make a difference

By Leonard Ho - Posted Feb 03, 2015 09:00 AM
Yeah, yeah; another op-ed about the ESA. This time I promise it's a lot more upbeat and constructive. What can you do to help our hobby during the ESA policy reviews? I offer some advice.

Last week, I wrote an admittedly critical op-ed, "Reefkeeping is NOT under attack," relating to our hobby's reaction to the recent decision by the US National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) to list twenty corals as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The intention of my op-ed was threefold:

  1. To provide a counterpoint for the "hobby is ending" prognostication and ask that we desist with the fear/uncertainty/doubt that is currently propagating throughout our hobby with Xenia-like vigor.
  2. Educate aquarists about the ESA process with a particular focus on what NOT to do during the current public comment period (which ends March 16, 2015), whose purpose is to investigate if the 20 corals warrant additional protective regulations.  Note: Species listed as Threatened are not automatically afforded regulatory protection (like species listed as Endangered); the 20 newly listed Threatened corals are currently not subject to any prohibitions.
  3. Share my opinion about regulating the trade of threatened Acroporids.

Some readers felt my tone was too negative and appeared as if I was dissuading participation in the process.  For that, I apologize.  This is the farthest thing from my intent.  ESA and CITES-related issues will only grow more frequent in coming years as global stressors impact wildlife, so it is critically important that all aquarists familiarize themselves with the processes and how to participate in a constructive manner.  I would also like to clarify that while I do not subscribe to the end-of-the-hobby outlook of the current state of affairs, I do not want to downplay the potential impact of regulatory policies on our hobby.  This is very important.

Therefore, I am writing this follow-up article to outline how you can meaningfully engage in the ESA process.

1. Contribute to PIJAC
pijac.jpgThe Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council represents the pet industry and owners, including aquarists, when it comes to legislative affairs.   PIJAC serves a vital role in promoting aquarist interests.  More importantly, PIJAC is our hobby's best organized, most unified front and knows how to navigate the complex, daunting world of policymaking.  PIJAC has effectively represented our hobby with NMFS by playing a key role in eliminating more than 75% of the petitioned corals from ESA listing; this was accomplished by aggregating data and expert opinions and submitting these findings to NMFS during the second public comment period - precisely the sort of comments that NMFS was soliciting.  If PIJAC had not done so, the outcome of NMFS' decision may have been very different.

Is PIJAC perfect?  No.  Like many in our hobby, they've also been guilty of exploiting hyperbolic statements to mobilize hobbyists and raise funds.  But our hobby truly needs a collective voice.  Today, PIJAC is that voice, and they need your financial support to operate.  Any amount will help.  Instead of the next fish or coral you plan to buy, consider donating to PIJAC instead.

For most aquarists, financially supporting PIJAC is the best (and only effective) act you can do to engage in this process.  It also happens to be the easiest: a couple of clicks and a couple of bucks.  You really have no valid excuse not to participate.

2. Submit your comment to the NMFS only if the comment pertains to wild conservation. Refrain from commenting if your contribution is predominantly related to reefkeeping.

The NMFS is very clear about the type of comments it is soliciting:

We are soliciting information from other agencies and the public that will help us determine what, if any, protective regulations are necessary and advisable for the conservation of these 20 newly listed coral species. This includes information that will help us understand and analyze impacts of various activities, the existence and efficacy of ongoing conservation activities, and prohibitions that are both necessary and advisable to reduce threats and amenable to management for the conservation of these 20 species. Specifically, we are soliciting information including the following: (1) Current or planned activities within the range of these species and their possible impact on these species; (2) impacts within the species' ranges that fall within any of the nine major threat categories: Ocean warming, disease, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, nutrient enrichment, sedimentation, predation, trophic effects of fishing, and collection and trade; (3) information on which of the section 9(a)(1) prohibitions on take are necessary and advisable for the conservation of these species, with associated justification; (4) specific activities that should be prohibited for the conservation of the 20 coral species, with associated justification; (5) specific activities that should be excepted from any prohibitions that may be applied because they either provide a conservation benefit or do not detract from the conservation of these species, with associated justification; (6) existing permitting programs that may already provide for the conservation of listed corals through their activity evaluation and permitting process, with associated justification; and (7) the economic costs and benefits likely to result from protective regulations.

3. Refrain from emotional or personal comments to NMFS. And check your political and ideological agendas at the door.  The NMFS process is not a town hall or popular vote.  Arguments are not won by who screams the loudest or most often, but rather who has the best information. If you can not supply useful information adhering to their criteria (see above), support people and organzations, like PIJAC, that can.

4. Do not submit cut-and-paste form letters to the NMFS.  The NMFS will reject duplicates, rendering your submission useless (and worse yet, a frivelous impediment to their process).  Again, the NMFS public comment solicition is NOT a popular vote.  It's not an online petition.

logo_nmfs.gif5. The NMFS is not your enemy.  Do not address them with animosity.  Even if you distrust federal agencies, don't do it.  Use Vulcan logic: If the NMFS is our enemy, our hobby is doomed no matter what we do, and your hostility is doing nothing but fanning the flame.  Yet if the NMFS is not our enemy (and really, they are not), addressing them with vitriol is like trying to attract bees with vinegar.

Besides, reefkeepers are very cool people. Cool So be cool like Fonzie.

If you are spoiling for a fight, don't worry; there will (sadly) be plenty of opportunities to defend our hobby against dogma-based attacks such as what is happening in Hawaii and the United Kingdom right now.

Above all else ...

Educate yourself on the process and the science.  Read all the material you can.  See blue text in this article?  Click and read them.  Then click and read the blue text in those articles.  Learn learn learn.  Our hobby's most powerful weapon is mobilized, invested, educated and level-headed members.

Going forward, our hobby should look to fund studies and surveys of reef life.  There is currently no central mechanism for us to do this, but it's something we should seriously consider.  Sponsoring science-based conservation organizations like the IUCN and Conservation International, both of whom perform biological assessments, is a good start.  The California Academy of Sciences, with all their recent work with reef surveys, also seems like a good candidate to conduct these surveys.  Data is king, and quite frankly our hobby is doing a very poor job of contributing to conservation data.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.

Website: http://www.advancedaquarist.com.

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