Author Archives: Eileen Dougherty

Dangerous fishing derby a backdrop for latest South Atlantic Council meeting

Progress made toward catch shares, which will end derbies and provide year-round fishing

The latest South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) meeting resulted in several positive outcomes for fisheries and fishermen, notably the unanimous votes to add details to the snapper grouper and golden crab catch share programs and seek public input on them in early 2011.

Dangerous derby a reminder of need for catch shares

At the same time the Council met, a dangerous year-end black sea bass fishing derby kept many fishermen away from the meeting and served as a reminder of why improving management is urgently needed.

The black sea bass fishery was opened for a short end-of-year season Dec. 1-15. With vermillion snapper off limits, fishermen rushed to catch black sea bass, even in bad weather, to catch as many black sea bass as possible before the season closes. As these fish glut the market, prices stand to drop significantly.

Dangerous fishing derbies like this one are becoming more prevalent as fishing seasons are drastically shortened throughout the region.

Fishermen and communities are struggling as fishermen and fish dealers go out of business. Catch shares are a proven solution to rebuild prosperous fisheries and communities. Catch shares also eliminate destructive derby conditions.

The SAFMC should move aggressively to gather fishermen input on catch share design and feedback on the pending catch share amendments.

Catch shares improve the safety of fishing

Below are examples where catch shares improved the safety of fishing.

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBbCH77xKW0
Alaskan fishermen talk about improved safety under catch shares in this video from Marine Conservation Alliance. 

Fishing derbies are brewing in the Southeast. Fishery managers should act responsibly for fish and fishermen, including taking steps to reduce derby fishing conditions with catch shares.

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Fishermen Face Uncertainty as Valuable Fishing Seasons Cut Short

Catch shares could extend seasons, bring back fish  

These vermilion snapper were landed in Murrels Inlet, SC in late August 2010.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is closing two valuable commercial fishing seasons in the Southeast on Oct. 6 and 7: vermilion snapper and black sea bass, respectively. 

With so many restrictions already placed on commercial fishing in recent years, fishermen are forced to compete with other fishermen to catch vermillion snapper and black sea bass as fast as possible before the catch limits are met and seasons closed. For several years, the limits have been met faster and seasons closed earlier. Once the seasons close, there will be few other valuable fish to catch for the rest of the year. 

These closures are not an accident. They’ve been happening consistently throughout the region for several years, due to outdated fishing rules and lower limits of fish to catch.

  • Since 2008, the vermilion snapper commercial fishing season has decreased in length by nearly 50%, allowing just 6 months of fishing this year.
  • Since 2006, the black sea bass commercial fishing season has decreased in length by more than 60%, allowing just under five months of fishing this year.
  • Since 2005, the golden tilefish commercial fishing season has decreased in length by more than 70%, allowing just over 3 months of fishing this year.
  • In 2009, there were no red snapper season restrictions, but this year fishing for red snapper has been banned the entire year.

This trend indicates that continued fishing under outdated rules could result in even more restrictions, causing further economic damage to the fishing industry and the communities it supports. Some fishermen have already gone out of business; those who are still in business often must go out in dangerous weather to fish before seasons close. Local fish can be hard to come by in the region.

There’s a better way to revitalize fish populations and get fishermen back on the water: catch shares.

Catch shares are the best solution for Southeast fisheries. Catch shares have proven results in fisheries around the world, they improve science through enhanced fishery monitoring and they eliminate the need for fishery closures.

Now is the time to move forward with better management: catch shares.

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Vote on Massive Southeast Fishing Closures Passes

Today in Orlando, Florida, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) approved amendment 17A (17A) to the snapper grouper fishery management plan. Now it will go to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke for approval. 17A closes the red snapper fishing season throughout the Southeast. It also closes a 5,000 square mile area for additional kinds of snapper and grouper fishing from Georgia to South Florida. A short-term ban was put in place in January to prevent red snapper fishing, until 17A could be finalized.

While today’s passage of 17A fulfills the Council’s legal requirements to end overfishing of red snapper, it does not provide an effective long-term strategy for a healthy fishery. In reality, it reinforces many other problems:

  • Commercial and charter fishermen going out of business;
  • Difficulty in finding local fish in restaurants and stores; and
  • Recreational fishermen – including tourists – not being able to fish as much, which hurts countless bait and tackle shops, boat dealers and mechanics, and tourist hotels and restaurants.

Catch shares allow fishing as fish populations rebuild
EDF believes that catch share management is the best option for the commercial and for-hire (charter and party boats) sectors of the snapper and grouper fishery. Catch shares could potentially replace 17A’s closures with fishing seasons and reduce closed areas while fish populations rebuild. Private anglers deserve an opportunity to catch red snapper too, and fishermen and the Council have an opportunity to improve the management by exploring new tools like a tagging program.

Growing numbers of Southeast fishermen agree that catch shares are the best way forward.

Catch shares set a scientifically-based limit on the total amount of fish that can be caught and then divide that amount among individual fishermen or groups of fishermen.  Studies have shown that catch shares bring fish populations back and benefit fishermen. With catch shares, fishermen have much more flexibility on when to fish, are held individually accountable for what they catch, are no longer forced to waste tons of fish by throwing them overboard, and fishing can be more profitable.

A looming disaster: Effort shift
When 17A is implemented, fishermen will focus on other kinds of fish, instead of red snapper. This can damage other fish populations or underwater habitat. Also, the uncontrolled BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may push Gulf fishermen into Southeast waters. Both situations will increase the amount of fishing pressure on an already distressed fishery. Catch shares reduce the need for season and area closures and the chance of damaging effort shift in fisheries.

Catch share success is proven
Successful catch share management is in place in the Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper, grouper and tilefish fisheries and hundreds of other fisheries worldwide. Just three years after the red snapper catch share in the Gulf of Mexico went into place, the amount of wasted fish was reduced significantly, fishermen made higher profits, and fish populations were rebounding. With the BP Oil Disaster, the flexibility of catch shares allows fishermen in areas closed to fishing to sell or lease their shares of fish to fishermen in open areas.

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Southeast fishery closures make the New York Times

SEfishingboat-smSoutheast fishermen recently finished the first month of closures on many popular fish. Many fisheries won’t open again for several months and reality is sinking in across the region.

The New York Times is even taking notice. When a region’s fishery woes make ink in one of the most prominent papers in the nation, you know it’s a big deal.

It’s apparent that closures aren’t working for fishing businesses, restaurants or local economies.  Fishermen can’t make a living when they can’t fish. Businesses that rely on local fish must turn to far off places to get it.  What’s not as apparent is that closures aren’t even very good for the region’s ecosystem, because they force fishermen to fish harder on other species that aren’t closed. This can cause market gluts and an early end to the fishing season for many species, which just multiplies current problems.

However, in all the sobering news coverage that’s come out lately, outlets are overlooking a solution that’s good for fish and fishing businesses.

Southeast fishermen need catch shares, which allow fishermen the flexibility to fish when the weather and prices are good and improve collection of fishery data, all while rebuilding fish populations. 

The good news is that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is already exploring this solution. In fact, the Council has scheduled a catch shares workshop for March 1 preceding the Council’s next regular meeting. If you’re interested in learning more about the best solution for Southeast fisheries, I encourage you to attend. The meeting is open to the public.

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South Atlantic Council Carefully Considers All Impacts of Red Snapper Regulations

The past few weeks have been big for Southeast fisheries.

  • Two weeks ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service passed an interim rule that will close red snapper fishing for 180 days starting Jan 4;
  • Last week, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council met in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina and approved measures (Amendment 17B) to end overfishing for nine species of snapper and grouper fish; and
  • Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its catch share policy, which will hopefully increase consideration of catch shares for our declining snapper-grouper fishery.

EileenonDocksWith all this going on, it is no wonder that last week’s Council meeting focused on red snapper.

Red snapper in the Southeast is said to have been overfished since the 1960s, but its cultural and economic value and lack of consensus on data are all reasons why the Council has yet to institute a rebuilding plan. But according to fishery laws, the Council must end overfishing of red snapper and other species. This has prompted a very close look at how to end overfishing of red snapper in a way that keeps as many fishermen on the water as possible.

Currently the Council is considering large area closures to end overfishing, but is still seeking new information – like red snapper mortality rates – that might further decrease the need for large closures.  The pursuit of this new information is likely to lead to delays in implementation of regulations to end red snapper overfishing, which is one reason the National Marine Fisheries Service took action to implement a red snapper interim rule. 

A huge amount of responsibility is put in the hands of Council members.  If regulations are too stringent, more fishermen will go out of business.  If regulations are too weak and do not end overfishing, the fishery will likely see future regulations that are even stricter and more devastating. 

Over the last year, I have heard impassioned pleas from commercial and for-hire fishermen and their families for the Council to consider how new regulations will impact their businesses and families.  This is an important concern and the Council is clearly considering business impacts in its deliberations on new regulations.

There is no magic answer for red snapper and other fish in trouble because all solutions will impact fishermen – commercial and recreational alike.  However, a catch share for red snapper and other snapper and grouper species will help keep fishermen on the water and fishermen’s profits up.  Plus, the Council can now look for technical, analytical, research and public outreach help from NOAA, via the agency’s new catch share policy, to help make this opportunity a reality.

As the Council makes a decision on red snapper and starts hearing more about how the early fishing season closures on vermillion, black sea bass, and other fish are negatively effecting individual profitability and the price of fish, I encourage them to consider a catch share to address accountability, improve data, and maintain a profitable fishery.

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South Atlantic Council Votes Unanimously to Explore Catch Shares

SA boat - smWe know that Southeast fishermen and business owners aren’t happy with the long season closures in place for many popular snapper grouper species, but today marks a victory toward better management that will help move the fishery away from closures. Today the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to explore a catch share amendment for the snapper grouper fishery. 

Managing a fishery under catch shares  is an opportunity to replace current management that focuses on closures – which don’t help fish, fishermen or businesses – with a more rational system that allows for increased flexibility about when and how to fish. Catch shares management also helps stocks recover and offers stability to fishing and other local businesses.

This decision is a chance for both commercial and recreational fishermen to get in the driver’s seat about how their fishing is managed, and start getting their seasons back. Catch shares also help achieve conservation gains very quickly, such as significantly reducing the amount of fish that must be thrown overboard dead due to outdated management rules.

Several fishermen spoke up at the Council meeting in favor of catch shares.

“In the midst of these long closures, catch shares could be the fishing industry’s saving grace,” said Phil Conklin, a commercial fisherman out of Murrells Inlet, S.C.  “Just look at the Gulf’s red snapper fishermen if you want proof that this can work in the Southeast. We’re in the same situation they were five years ago. Rather than letting our fishing industry continue to go down the drain under these season closures, that many doubt will even help the fish and will certainly hurt fishermen, we should seriously consider catch shares for our fishery.”

The Council’s decision shows that they’re thinking about the long-term health of the fishery. They should keep this momentum going and work to implement a catch share for the fishery soon. It’s the best way to keep the Southeast’s fishing heritage alive.

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