Catch Shares Success as Big as Texas

red snapper in bucketsWhen the largest paper in Texas (.42 million readers) puts catch shares on its front page, you know it’s worth talking about. This Saturday the Houston Chronicle wrote an article titled “Catch and Relief: A new share system for fishing red snapper in the Gulf appears to benefit anglers, as well as the species suffering from overfishing.”

The story features commercial fisherman Buddy Guindon, who also owns Katie’s Seafood in Galveston, TX. He owns quota in the Gulf of Mexico’s commercial red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ) program, a type of catch share.

An interesting excerpt:

“At first, the concept of individual shares so worried Guindon that he sold one of his two seafood markets as a pre-emptive move. Two years later, Guindon said he is catch half the fish but making more money. The new system allows him to reduce expenses because his boats can take longer and more fuel-efficient trips while increasing revenue by fishing when the Gulf is safe and dockside prices are high.”

Check out the full story.

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Killing Machine or Ecological Treasure?

Sometimes sharks are called “killing machines.”  In reality, people have a much higher chance (over 600%) of being stuck by lightning than being attacked by a shark.

Movies like the famous 1975 thriller “Jaws” portray sharks as evil, almost supernatural, beasts that will do whatever they can to taste human flesh.  But, perhaps we should look in our own mirrors to see the real threat.  Sharks around the world are captured by the millions for their meat, skin, and oils.  They are hunted for their fins, used in some countries to make a popular soup, while the rest of the body is thrown overboard to die.  Sport fishermen host tournaments with top prize money for big sharks.

Certainly, shark fishing at a sustainable level is possible, and sharks are an important source of food and income for thousands of people.  However, many are being caught faster than they can reproduce. Some sharks are even at-risk of being classified as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Even if the sight of a shark gives you the “willies,” you should care about what happens when they are gone.  The decline of sharks can cause what scientists call “cascading” impacts on oceans.  When large sharks on the U.S. East Coast were depleted, there was a rise in the population of a type of ray called the “cownose” ray.  What’s so bad about that?  Well, the rays damage vital sea grass habitats that are important marine life nurseries.  To make matters worse, the rays like to eat a lot of the same seafood that we enjoy, like scallops and clams.

Recently the Texas Observer published an article presenting an interesting account of the tragic circumstances facing sharks and one struggling Mexican community that relies on them. It tells us that not only do we have to do a good job in managing sharks within our own national waters, but that we need to find ways to work and cooperate with the other countries in the Gulf of Mexico region to conserve sharks – for the benefit of the oceans and coastal communities.

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NOAA Approves Gulf of Mexico Grouper / Tilefish IFQ

gag grouperThis morning the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made one of the most significant decisions in the name of saving Gulf of Mexico fisheries, fishermen, and coastal fishing communities by approving a multi-species individual fishing quota (IFQ) program for Gulf of Mexico grouper and tilefish. The program will be implemented in January, creating one of the largest multi-species IFQ programs in federal waters of the continental U.S.

The grouper/tilefish IFQ will build on the successful record of the red snapper IFQ, which has already significantly contributed to the recovery of the stressed red snapper species. Together, the programs will offer even more conservation benefits than either program alone.

Fishermen are ecstatic and so are we. It has been a long process, but with support from fishermen (who voted in favor of the IFQ by more than 80%), managers (the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted in favor of the IFQ by more than 75%) and environmentalists, NOAA is implementing a strong conservation program that is welcomed by many.

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First-hand Gulf Snapper Education

Earlier this month I took a few of my staff down to Galveston, TX to meet with fishermen and get some first-hand learning on the water and at the docks.

We started by taking a recreational fishing trip 30 miles into the Gulf of Mexico with a fisherman friend who answered every question in the book, like “where does this bait (sardines) come from?” to “how has Hurricane Ike damage affected local fishing businesses?” We got some great insight into how for-hire fishing businesses operate and had some fun at the same time.

The next morning I got a special treat when I met a red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ) shareholder at the docks to watch him offload 17,000 pounds of red and vermilion snapper after a six day commercial fishing trip. I was given a tour of the boat and learned some of the nitty-gritty details about running a commercial fishing business.

While I’d barely met the fishermen who were offloading, they were extremely enthusiastic about the Gulf’s IFQ program. These fishermen described the drastic difference, a very positive difference, that the IFQ made for their businesses in just the first six months.

Read More »

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Saving Fishing Jobs and Sea Turtles

Heather Paffe, EDF Oceans' regional director for the Gulf of MexicoGulf of Mexico fisheries regulators recently closed down longline fishing (7-9 mile fishing lines with hundreds of hooks) in the Gulf of Mexico off west Florida for six months because the government reported that more threatened sea turtles were being caught than expected. The result of the closure is that turtles will be saved, but jobs will be lost.

On top of this six month closure, the Gulf Council will make a decision later this week on additional measures the longline fishermen will have to take to avoid interacting with sea turtles. Again, the good news is that turtles will be saved and the bad news is that jobs will be lost.

Vertical fishing gearIn the midst of all this, our very own Dave McKinney came up with a solution to save turtles and jobs. We’ve started a grant program that provides financial assistance to longline fishermen who convert to vertical gear, which causes far fewer turtle interactions. We have already received almost 30 applications and the new gear has already been put on more than five vessels.  

As a result, turtles are safer, fishermen have jobs and we’re thrilled because financially stable fisheries are important for achieving our conservation goals. Florida’s U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have agreed and have given us kudos for finding the ways that work.

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