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 Home > News & Policies > October 2007

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 20, 2007

President Bush Signs Executive Order to Protect Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
St. Michael's, Maryland

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     Fact sheet Executive Order: Protection of Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations
     Fact sheet Fact Sheet: Guarding Against Over-Fishing Through Cooperative Conservation
     Fact sheet In Focus: Environment

10:12 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Stuart, thanks for the introduction. Thanks for the invitation here to the Maritime Museum. It's a beautiful site you got here. I can see why people want to live in St. Michael's, and I do want to thank the good citizens of this community for coming out and greeting me and Laura. By the way, Laura is not here -- she's headed over to the Vice President's house. They've kindly invited us for lunch. I guess you could say she's the taster. (Laughter.)

President George W. Bush signs an Executive Order to protect the striped bass and red drum fish populations Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007, at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. President Bush is joined during the signing by, from left, Michael Nussman, president of American Sportfishing Association; Brad Burns, president of Stripers Forever; David Pfeifer, president of Shimano America Corp.; Walter Fondren, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association; U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez; U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and U.S. Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne. White House photo by Eric Draper The Vice President tells me there's a lot of fine fishing here, and I'm looking forward to going out and trying to catch some. I love to fish. And the good news there's a lot of good fishing here is because the Secret Service won't let me go hunting with him. (Laughter.)

I'm going to sign an executive order today to protect our striped bass and red drum fish populations, that's what I'm here to do. The executive order is part of our commitment to end over-fishing in America and to replenish our nation's fish stocks and to advance cooperative conservation and responsible stewardship. And this is a good place to come and sign the executive order. I thank you all for coming up and letting me say hello to you and witness this presidential act.

I want to thank the Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, for joining us today. He cares about our waters and our fish stocks just like I do. And I appreciate Carlos Gutierrez, he's the Secretary of Commerce, for joining us as well. He's in charge of NOAA, as is Conrad Lautenbacher -- run NOAA -- you've got a fancy title, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. That means he runs NOAA. (Laughter.) And I appreciate your concern about our waters, Conrad, and I want to thank you for your service to the country.

I appreciate Wayne Gilchrest, he's the congressman from this district. Mr. Congressman, I'm honored you're here; thank for taking time, appreciate you welcoming us. I want to thank all the state and local folks who've joined us. Particularly I want to thank people who care about fishing, and thank you for being here. I want to thank the different groups represented here. I want to say one -- there's a fellow up here named Walter Fondren, he's a fellow Texan. He had a lot to do with making sure conservation efforts on the Texas Gulf Coast worked. He proved, as have others here, that if you get together with responsible officials you can help get these fishing stocks back to robust. We were losing our red fish in Texas, and he, along with other concerned citizens, came together and said let's do something about it. And as a result, red fishing is good again. But we want to make it as good as possible all throughout the country, because fishing is important to the country.

President George W. Bush gestures as he addresses his remarks prior to signing an Executive Order to protect the striped bass and red drum fish populations Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007, at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez is seen background. White House photo by Eric Draper Listen, it's important to be a commercial fisherman; I understand that. But the commercial fishermen and the sport fishermen don't have to be antagonistic. It's not a zero-sum game. Good policy will help our commercial fishermen and good policy will help our sport fishermen. And that's what we're here to talk about. And it's important to recognize here in America that sport fishing is a important industry; a lot of people make a living because of sport fishing. I don't know if people know this, but millions of Americans are spending about $40 billion a year on sport fishing. I know in our state, Walter, there's a lot of people, a lot of entrepreneurs making a good living -- they're fishing guides. A lot of bait shops and small business owners are doing well as a result of good sport fishing policy.

And so we're here today to talk about sport fishing. As a matter of fact, I'm fixing to go do some sport fishing. I can't guarantee I'm going to catch anything. I hope that frogman out there does his job. (Laughter.)

I want to talk about a little bit of the comprehensive strategy we've put in place. In 2004, our administration released an Ocean Action Plan, the whole purpose of which was to make the oceans and the Great Lakes and the coast cleaner and healthier and more productive. The plan is producing some positive results. On one of the results of the plan was the -- the Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands that I declared. The action created the largest single conservation area in the history of the nation. It is the largest protected marine area in the world. It is a visible sign that we care about conservation and good water policy.

I also signed the bipartisan Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act. It's a good piece of legislation. Many here worked on it and I want to thank you for working the halls of Congress to get this bill to my desk. The legislation closes loopholes in the law by setting a firm deadline to end over-fishing in America by 2011. The law puts in place market-based incentives to help replenish our fish stocks by granting fisherman the right to catch a designated amount of fish during a specified season. The law increases enforcement and raises penalties for those who break our fishing laws. This law improves data collection to help ensure our decisions are based on sound science. It is an important piece of legislation. And I want to thank the authors of the bill for getting it done. I think it's going to help a lot when it comes to managing our fish stocks in a constructive, smart way.

In addition to the Magnuson-Stevenson [sic] Act, over the last couple of years we've made a strong commitment to improve, restore and replace our wetlands. I set out the goal that during my presidency we would restore -- improve, restore and replace 3 million acres of wetlands. The reason I did that is because wetlands act as what we call nature's nurseries by helping small fish survive before they head into deeper waters. We're going to make that goal. We will have replaced, improved and restored over 3 million acres of wetlands during my presidency.

Another significant problem is marine debris. And I was talking to Dirk Kempthorne, and he's going to host a symposium on the Gulf Coast to call our nation's attention to this issue. Our strategy is going to be to work with the private sector to help clean up the debris. I don't know if you understand -- it is a significant problem. Out there in the Hawaiian Island area that I set aside, Laura went out there and a lot of birds are eating this stuff that gets washed up as a result of people just dumping whatever they want to in the ocean. It's like a -- people kind of view it as, I guess, a giant garbage heap. And part of making sure that doesn't happen is to make it clear to our public the consequences of people just getting on our waters and just dumping whatever they feel like dumping out there.

And we're also going to work with the international community. A lot of the nets we're picking up out of that beautiful sanctuary in the -- or the monument in Hawaii of -- wash ashore because some trawler decides they don't want to mend the net or store the net or take care of the net -- they just cut it and let her go, and the currents wash all that stuff ashore. We literally pulled out tons of material off these islands. And so we're going to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with this and call people to account, and ask them to join in protecting our oceans and waterways.

We're also talking about today to make sure that [we] not only protect the waters, we're going to protect the marine life in the waters. And so I want to talk today about two of the most popular recreational fish: the striped bass and the red drum. The striped bass -- I don't know if our citizens follow the striped bass, but it's a good fish to catch. It's a lot of fun. It's also a good fish to eat. We've got to make sure we've got enough to catch as well as enough to eat, and we can do both in a smart way.

Striped bass range from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the St. John's River in Florida. They inhabit parts of the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. Some people call them stripers or rockfish. I guess we're going to call them rockfish today. (Laughter.) They can live up to be 30 years old. In the old days you could catch them up to 55 to 70 pounds pretty easily. And what we're trying to do is to make sure that the old days come back; that the striper is plentiful and that you can catch some good-sized ones, too -- nothing like catching a big striper.

They were once so plentiful back in 1614, that Captain John Smith wrote this, he said, a man could cross over the water "dryshod" by walking on the backs of all the fish. What's interesting is the striped bass was also one of the first species to be protected by the American people. In 1639, Massachusetts forbade the use of striped bass as fertilizer. By the early 1980s, striped bass were significantly depleted by poor water quality and over-fishing.

Over the years since that time, there's been some progress made to protect the striped bass. But not enough has been made, so today we're going to try to make some more progress.

Red drum is another popular fish that has experienced over-fishing. These fish are called reds, or redfish, or channel bass or spottail. What happened to this particular fish was that it became popular to eat. The restaurants found it to be good food and it became a popular dish and they got over-fished.

Now, we put protections in place both at state and federal level to protect the red drum. Unfortunately, the red drum species is still trying to recover. That's why I'm going to take this additional step today, because the recovery is not complete. In the waters from North Carolina to the tip of Florida, the numbers are still too low. And in parts of our Gulf, we're not sure of their status. So if you're not sure of the status, we ought to be taking special precaution. It's important that our fish stocks be full and robust and healthy.

And so I'm about to sign an executive order all aimed to help the federal government conserve striped bass and red drum in three key ways. First, the executive order directs the Commerce and Interior Departments -- that's why the two Secretaries are standing here -- to work with our fishery management councils and commissions to protect -- to prohibit the sale of striped bass and red drum caught in federal waters.

Second, this executive order encourages the periodic review of the status of the striped bass and red drum populations. This will ensure we have the most up to date information for determining whether breeding stocks are attaining healthy numbers and size in federal waters. Data is important when it comes to managing the fishing stocks. To improve the quality of our data we're building a recreational saltwater registry that will collect information from sportsmen about local fish stocks, which will help us better protect striped bass, red drum and all our fisheries. We're going to count on the people who really care about the fish stocks to get good, solid, sound information so we can do a better job not only today, but tomorrow, in making sure our fisheries are strong.

And finally, the executive order encourages states to take a look at their own management of the fish stocks. See, we believe in cooperative conservation. That means cooperation at the federal, state and local levels. We believe in a collaborative approach. The federal government ought to work with all stakeholders to achieve common consensus. And I respect the state's role in the management of the natural resources under their care. So I'm directing federal agencies to work with state officials to find innovative ways to help conserve striped bass and red drum.

And one such way is to use the state designation of "gamefish" where appropriate. I hope the state officials take a serious look at gamefish designation; it is an effective tool to protect endangered or dwindling species. See, it prohibits commercial sales, which removes the incentive to catch the fish for anything other than recreational purposes. State designations of gamefish have helped the recovery of species such as trout and large-mouth bass and tarpon and snook. People need to take a look at this tool to make sure that the fisheries are robust. Strong fisheries mean local sales. Local sales means better local economy.

And so the executive order shows our commitment to conserving our nation's resources. Our hope, everybody -- the hope of everyone here is that decades from now our children and grandchildren will see oceans, lakes and rivers teeming with fish and sea life. I can't guarantee they're going to be able to walk across their backs -- (laughter) -- like John Smith observed. But I can guarantee that we're committed to taking care of that which we have been given. My hope is people look back at our oceans' policies and our record of conservation and say, we're grateful that concerned citizens came together to protect our heritage.

And so I want to thank you all for coming and giving me a chance to visit with you about a vision that is a hopeful vision and an important vision. And I thank you for witnessing the signing of the Executive Order to Protect the Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations.

God bless. (Applause.)

(The executive order was signed.) (Applause.)

END 10:28 A.M. EDT