Guest Column: The Graves Bill

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Capt. Gary Jarvis, President Destin Charter Boat Association

The city of Destin did a 2013 economic study conducted by the Hass Economic Center to evaluate the value of tourism within the city limits, especially water sports on Destin harbor. Those results  should give our elected officials like multi-term congressman Jeff Miller all the insight needed to help him make good decisions on what economically important to his constituents in District 1.

That study reflected the fact that just the Destin Charter Fishing industry alone brought more than $173 million into the Okaloosa county and the Destin economy.  The study took into effect the gross income from Charter Fishing companies, support industry sales, accommodation, restaurants and supplies that charter customers spend money on. When adding other water sports on the harbor it was more than $240 million in annual economic impacts to the city and county.

 Now granted we all know the US government is the main economic driver in District 1 and brings in about 59 percent of the economic benefits to the Panhandle. A little research finds that the majority of big donors to Rep. Miller election coffers comes from the defense industry and that is OK and understandable as he is a staunch supporter of our military and has done a fine job representing that portion of District 1.

But what about the next biggest economic driver? The tourism industry? It's also the life blood of the Emerald Coast and to those of us who don't get a paycheck from Uncle Sam, it's the main source of employment and ability to provide for our families. 

So that is why it's confusing how an experienced District 1 Republican congressman would co-sign a bill ( that was introduced by a Louisiana freshman congressman) that if passed, will inflict catastrophic harm on all aspects of tourism in District 1, especially those businesses that have any ties to the fishing industry, restaurants, fish markets and lodging.

All of these businesses are tied to healthy sustainable fisheries as a driver of tourism and economic growth. It's not just Destin who will suffer, every fishing business in the Pensacola charter fleet and commercial fishing companies, along with the hundreds of restaurants in Pensacola, Pensacola Beach and Navarre, Fort Walton Beach and Destin will be harmed as this bill will hinder and eventually totally end all access to federal red snapper fisheries to the general public.

 The Graves Bill, co-sponsored by Congressman Miller, is a special interest piece of legislation that wants to take one species of fish out of the MSA and federal management and bequeath it to the five state commissions to allow the private boat lobby to execute all the leverage they need to control their special interest agenda at the state level. Only three out of the five men will control how the fishery is managed. In the bill, it allows those three votes to decide who will have access.

In the bill written by the Texas based CCA and their representative from Louisiana, it provides for the end of the present commercial fishery management plan and total reallocation of the portion of fish set aside for the consumer and those who love to eat wild caught Gulf seafood, but don't have the capability to catch their own.

The bill will allow this total reallocation without any federal intervention in less than 7 years. The bill also will end the charter boat industry allocation set aside for our visitors and residence of our states who do not own a boat or can not afford one, but access the fishery aboard federally permitted vessels. This bill creates a foothold that will lead to other species that the fishing industry relies on and can lead to the end of 80 years of participation of recreational anglers access aboard our fleets.

Congressman Miller needs to rescind his support of this tourism killing bill and help our tourist-related industries in District 1. Congressman Miller and his co-signee Mr. Graves need to take a hard look at why they support a selfish, greedy, elitist organization like CCA and want to harm small business all along the five coastal states.

As Republicans it's a strange set of actions coming from members of the party that is supposed to support small mom and pop businesses especially tourism here in Florida. I have personally told Mr. Miller's staff that a congressman may not win an election over a fish, but like the last election cycle in District 2 next door you damn sure might lose one. 

Capt. Gary Jarvis 

President Destin Charter Boat Association 

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