New red snapper proposals need safeguards from overfishing

Lawmakers in the House and Senate recently introduced legislation aimed at the perpetually contentious Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery. Thanks to stronger conservation standards and accountability, red snapper numbers in the Gulf have tripled in the last decade and catch limits have doubled, leading to increased value for commercial fishermen and access for charter and for-hire vessels. Unfortunately, private anglers are stuck under a profoundly broken management system. Congressman Garret Graves, Senator Bill Cassidy and others on Capitol Hill propose to give the Gulf states the chance to manage this specific part of the red snapper fishery.

Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife via flickr: https://flic.kr/p/VjyKem

We share the desire to give private anglers more flexibility and certainty in their fishing opportunities, and states are already innovating under current law, such as the LA Creel program in Louisiana. The new bills (H.R. 3588 and S. 1686) have improved significantly from similar attempts last Congress. But without further safeguards, they threaten to take us back to the failures of the past, when the fishery was severely depleted and red snapper was hard to find for seafood consumers and anglers alike.

The current proposals would give the five Gulf States authority to manage the private angler portion of the red snapper fishery in both state and federal waters; commercial and charter/for-hire fishermen would remain under federal management. But because the bills lack provisions to ensure that the private angler sector stays within its quota (after exceeding it nine of the last 12 years), the bills would jeopardize the sustainability of the fishery and undermine the commercial and charter sectors.

Current law requires federal fishery managers to keep every sector – commercial, charter and private angler – within an annual catch limit. If one group exceeds its quota, managers must make adjustments to make up for the overage and prevent it happening in the future to ensure long-term sustainability.

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New online training will enable better fisheries management

What if anyone in the world could access expert help and advice on fisheries management with just the click of button?

Overfishing is a global problem that can only be overcome by a global effort to address it. But there is no one-size-sits-all approach. Fisheries managers need access to tools and methods that can be effective on a local scale.

Our Virtual Fisheries Academy is a new resource for fisheries management professionals all over the world. Getting strong fisheries management in place around the world relies on an empowered network of fishery managers, fishermen, scientists and other practitioners who have the knowledge and skills to develop fishery management solutions that work for their fisheries.

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How important is the role of science in managing U.S. fisheries?

Jeremy Sterk / istockphoto

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is proud to sponsor a panel this week at the annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) – the nation’s preeminent organization advancing fisheries science – that examines the role of science in federal fisheries management. Ten years ago, Congress gave science a stronger role in fisheries management. Today, overfishing has dropped significantly in U.S. waters and we have seen a number of fish stocks successfully rebuilt. Coincidence? Unlikely.

This week’s panel will examine what part the strong scientific provisions of the law have played in rebuilding fisheries, new scientific innovations needed to address remaining challenges, and whether any additional changes to the law could further strengthen management success. Read More »

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How science and technology can help save sharks

photo credit: Philippe Guillaume corrida via photopin (license)

Every year, Shark Week gives us a peek into the world of shark research and the amazing science and technology developing to study these captivating animals. This year, we were amazed by ultrasounds for pregnant hammerhead sharks and measuring a goblin shark’s bite.  The latest science and technology can also help fishermen seeking other species to avoid sharks, protecting them from a significant source of injury and death while saving fishermen money.

Globally, shark bycatch represents one of the greatest threats – maybe the greatest threat, — to shark populations. Worldwide, sharks caught as bycatch can make up nearly half of the total reported catch, and that’s not counting the large amount of catch that goes unreported. Often, fishermen want to catch more valuable species like swordfish and tuna using pelagic longlines, one of the most prevalent fishing gears on the high seas, and hate accidentally catching sharks instead. So how can science and technology help solve this problem? Read More »

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Gulf anglers like me are demanding change

EDF Gulf Director, Robert Jones, after a recent fishing trip.

Fishing gets in your blood. As a kid growing up on the Texas coast, I spent as much time as possible on the water. Today, an inordinate amount of my time and treasure goes toward maintaining an offshore boat so I can get my salty fix on weekends. I’m one of millions of Americans for whom fishing is a lifestyle. And I’m part of an overwhelming chorus of Gulf anglers who are sick and tired of the broken way we manage recreational red snapper fishing and are demanding change.

The recovery of red snapper is an incredible opportunity. As the stock has rebounded over the last decade, the total amount of catch available annually has grown from 5 million to 14 million pounds. For seafood businesses and consumers, that has delivered tremendous benefits, increasing the value of the commercial fishery from $37 million to $220 million and making delicious Gulf red snapper available year-round in restaurants and grocery stores.

But it’s an entirely different story on the recreational side. Instead of anglers and recreational fishing businesses throughout the Gulf reaping the benefits of recovery, we are stuck in a downward spiral of recreational management failure. Anglers are catching more and bigger fish in state seasons that have become longer and longer – up to 365 days in Texas. As a result, 81% of angler quota is now caught in state waters meaning federal seasons are getting shorter and shorter – like this year’s original three-day season. This has been suffocating our access to the best offshore fishing grounds.

Then last month, the feds did a complete about-face, opening the floodgates with an “all weekends, all summer” recreational season. The problem with this approach is that it will lead to a massive breach of the very science-based catch limits that have brought red snapper back from the brink. We estimate that under the new 2017 season rules, recreational anglers could take as much as three times their safe limit, jeopardizing the fishery. This is a recipe for repeating the disastrous overfishing of previous decades, and returning to the days when my dad and I could barely find a red snapper on a trip. Today we filed a lawsuit to ensure that doesn’t happen. To be clear, we are not trying to end this year’s recreational season and we don’t think fishermen should have to pay the price for the Commerce Department’s misguided decision.

For us, going to court is about more than preventing a return to overfishing: it’s about breaking the cycle of profound recreational management failure and catalyzing innovative, solutions-oriented reforms.

The good news is there are plenty of smart ideas out there that can achieve conservation goals, improve fisheries data, and give anglers more access and flexibility. For example, headboat captains led a pilot project allowing them to take anglers fishing year-round in exchange for requirements they count and report every fish they catch. Charter operators are implementing new electronic reporting systems that provide managers with data in close to real time. Louisiana’s LA Creel data collection program is an example of states working with anglers to deliver a clearer picture of catch rates and provide opportunities for an expanded state role in management. And there are tools that have long worked for hunters that should be considered in the red snapper fishery to improve angler access.

Now is the moment to build out and scale up these new approaches to how we manage recreational fishing. Working together, we can ensure a healthy red snapper stock, extend the success of our Gulf seafood industry, give anglers flexible access, and ensure that future generations of Americans can enjoy the thrill of catching red snapper.

Robert E. Jones, a lifelong recreational fisherman, was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is director of Environmental Defense Fund's Gulf of Mexico Oceans program. 

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