Author Archives: Pam Baker

Recreational red snapper management system "stinks and punishes everyone"

Charter boats allow recreational fishermen who do not have their own boats to fish for iconic species such as this Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper. Photo Credit Gulf Wild™

As the Gulf of Mexico red snapper allocation becomes a hot topic for both recreational and commercial fishermen, I wrote to Saving Seafood to set the record straight about Environmental Defense Fund’s work in the Gulf of Mexico and views on the issues facing fishermen.  An excerpt can be found below:

“Gulf of Mexico states and their anglers are increasingly frustrated with short seasons for prized red snapper in federal waters.  They have every right to be angry. The management of the recreational share of the fishery is utterly failing. This year’s projected federal season of a few weeks at best, together with large over-harvests each year, are obvious signs.  The system stinks and punishes everyone including those who enjoy fishing on their own and fishermen and families who use for-hire guides to access the Gulf.

There are a lot of passionate voices advocating change. Open discussion should be respected and welcome – in fact, exploration of new ideas is the only way to get closer to solutions.  Unfortunately, the gossip and finger-pointing simply diverts attention from important issues and does nothing to help.

I am proud of the partnerships between Environmental Defense Fund and fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.  I am convinced that cooperation between conservationists, fishermen and government are critical to the long term health of the Gulf.  I am also convinced that the progress of commercial red snapper management towards rebuilding the fish population and sustained financial viability is vital to success.”

Read the full piece here.

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How Catch Shares are Working in the Gulf of Mexico

For over 20 years I’ve worked in the field of fisheries and ocean conservation, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico.  During that time I’ve been privileged to catch and enjoy the region’s red snapper, kingfish and flounder.  In my view, we can and should balance conservation of the region’s resources with people’s need for jobs, food, and enjoyment.  In fact, finding the balance is at the heart of the Gulf’s future.

Fisheries management – especially when commercial and recreational goals seem at odds – has been controversial since federal regulations came into play in the 1980s.  A newly used tool in the Gulf called “catch shares” is currently getting a lot of attention, some of it from anglers concerned that it is responsible for increasing recreational regulations and shrinking access.   This is a misconception.

Recently, an author on the Florida Sportsman’s Conservation Blog questioned whether Environmental Defense Fund is contradicting itself in supporting catch shares to solve overfishing problems in federal commercial fisheries.  The answer is:  “not at all.”  As an organization, EDF works in partnership with industry and communities to find solutions to environmental problems that are also good for the economy.  This is exactly what the Gulf’s catch share programs achieve.  They were implemented with industry leadership and support and are achieving the fishery’s conservation and economic goals. Read More »

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New Report: Gulf Red Snapper Catch Share Meeting Objectives

The Gulf of Mexico red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ) program – one type of catch share – is again earning high marks for its conservation and economic benefits.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has published three annual updates of the program, with the latest concluding that the red snapper IFQ is meeting its main objectives. A recent stock assessment also concluded that long-standing “overfishing” of red snapper is finally ending.

Tangible Conservation, Economic Progress

  • Commercial overfishing is reversed and catch limits are climbing.
    After recent deep cuts in catch, commercial fishermen were rewarded this year with a more than 30 percent increase in catch in response to the positive stock assessment results and effective management.
  • Far fewer dead fish are thrown overboard.  
    Scientific analyses conclude that 70 percent fewer fish are being thrown overboard under IFQs across the Gulf. The latest report highlights that in Texas and Louisiana, which accounted for over half of the ’09 landings, fishermen discarded just one fish for every 15 they kept.  This is a huge improvement over pre-IFQ management when, gulf-wide, fishermen threw back about one fish for every one kept.
  • Fishermen are leaving more fish in the water to reproduce.
    Not only are fewer fish thrown overboard, fishermen have left about three percent of their quota in the water for the past three years.
  • Businesses have an opportunity to turn a profit. 
    With year-round fishing and stability, fishermen bring high quality fish to the dock when consumer demand is high. Fishermen now have flexibility to tailor the catch to market needs and organize fishing trips to minimize costs.  Fishermen say their costs have dropped by 50 percent or more and data show they are earning 25 percent more for their fish at the dock.
  • The value of the fishery is rising. 
    The rising value of the privilege to catch red snapper represents growing benefits to Gulf communities and reflects optimism for a healthy fishery, stable management, and a commitment to conservation.  

Opportunities for Improvement in the 5-year Review

With 2011 around the corner, a milestone for IFQ program is approaching: The start of a 5-year mandatory performance evaluation.

All federal catch share programs are reviewed at the 5-year point to evaluate progress toward goals and identify needed improvements. This is also an opportunity highlight the region’s most significant management successes – and national model – and to fine-tune the plan and ensure on-going benefits to the fishery, industry and communities.

One thing is clear going into the review: the IFQ program is working and should be continued. Additionally, there are two key areas in which the program can be improved:

  • Continue to improve enforcement and monitoring
    • Ensure standardized, accurate reporting of ex-vessel prices by fish dealers.  This is important in part for collection of cost recovery fees.
    • Improve the online IFQ reporting system so that it reconciles with other landing records data.
    • Ensure compliance with the six percent cap on holding IFQ shares.
  • Reduce red snapper discarding even more
    • Eliminate the minimum size limit to reduce size-related discards.
    • Better integrate eastern Gulf fishermen into the IFQ program (This region received little initial allocation of shares because red snapper had been fished out of the area until recently).
    • Create a full-retention fishery where all fish caught are counted toward each fisherman’s quota, and tracked by camera, to eliminate all waste that lessen the value and recovery of the fishery.

A Successful Model for Struggling Fisheries

The red snapper IFQ has already served as a model for Gulf commercial fishermen who voted to add 20 grouper and tilefish species into the IFQ program in 2010. Conservation and economic benefits will further improve if all commercial reef fish are incorporated into the program.

Regulators and commercial fishermen who target highly migratory species, like sharks, are also considering how catch shares might help them improve fishing, reduce wasteful discards, and boost profits.  Finally, catch shares could also be applied to struggling Gulf charter operators to give these fishermen an opportunity to plan their businesses and far better meet the needs of their angler clients.

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A Lifeline for Gulf Fishermen: Catch Shares Cushion Blow for Commercial Snapper Fleet in Wake of BP Oil Disaster

At the time of the BP oil disaster, the once-failing Gulf commercial red snapper fishery was beginning to rebound, in large part due to a catch shares program called individual fishing quotas introduced in 2007.  Before catch shares, fishermen competed against each other in a dangerous race-to-fish before the short seasons ended. Now, fishermen are assigned a percentage of an annual sustainable catch and have a year round season. Individuals decide when to fish their secure amount, and can trade their allotments with other boats, providing incentives and accountability to save fish and the marine environment.

The system works for fishermen and fish. Before, regulations forced fishermen to throw out millions of fish, wasted and dying. Fish were caught during short seasons and were sold in the market all at once, pushing down quality and fishermen's earnings. Now, far fewer fish are wasted, fishing costs are dramatically lower, and fishing trips are timed when seafood demand is high.  In short, opportunities for a healthy Gulf and fishing industry are possible again.

While all Gulf fishing businesses have been harmed, catch shares have cushioned the blow for fishermen during the BP oil disaster in the following ways, as non-catch share fishermen – like red snapper charter fishermen – are stuck dealing with another huge blow to their industry.

  • Tangible assets to make loss recovery claims: Catch shares have a transparent market price, which may help fishermen calculate defensible claims for the loss of value of their business and assets from the oil disaster. In contrast, fishermen under old rules may find it difficult to prove the expected value of this year's and future catches. This case is likely the first in which disaster claims can be based on catch shares.
  • Ability to trade fish now to make ends meet: Catch share fishermen in areas closed by the spill can trade their shares to others in the open Gulf waters, giving them the means to survive in the short term. In contrast, fishermen under old rules are stuck at the docks with nothing to trade.
  • Security to wait and fish later in the year: Catch share fishermen have a year round seasons and secure amount of fish, allowing them to save their fish for later in the year. For those under old rules, like charter fishermen, important fishing seasons are often concentrated during summer months, so fishermen that have been closed in by oil from Louisiana to Alabama have missed out on fishing for some prized fish and substantial fishing income.  (Regulators may re-open some fisheries to alleviate hardship caused by the oil disaster.)

Overall, catch shares help make fishermen more resilient to man- made disasters like the BP oil disaster and natural disasters like hurricanes.

Now more than ever, we need to improve fishery resiliency, reduce waste and make every fish count — for the environment and for fishermen. Catch shares are the best way to make this happen.

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As Attempts to Plug Spill Continue to Fail, Use of Dispersants Will Likely Grow

A plane unloading dispersants passes over an oil skimmer near the site of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Tuesday, April 27 (Source: Associated Press)

As attempt after attempt to plug the BP Oil Disaster fails, and the ability to drill relief wells lies months in the future, BP may spread many more dispersants into Gulf waters in the near future. Read this week’s Wall Street Journal article on this topic.

EDF’s goal for the Gulf of Mexico is to ensure that people can enjoy fishing, run profitable and safe fishing businesses and eat fresh Gulf seafood, while conserving a healthy ecosystem for the future. Dispersants are a direct threat because scientists don’t know much about how the droplets of oil and dispersant chemicals that float around will affect fish habitat or the marine food chain.

EDF senior scientist Richard Denison asks several basic questions about dispersants on his Chemicals Blog, including:

  • Why aren’t we using the safest and most effective dispersants in the Gulf?
    Richard reports that of the 18 different dispersants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tested, the two dispersants of choice— Corexit® brand— ranked only 13th and 16th in effectiveness. Read more.
  • What part of "contingency plan" did we not understand?
    Richard and others takes a look at the federal government’s contingency plan for dispersant use in oil spills and find that several simple questions remain unanswered, including: Read more.

    • Do the dispersants actually work to reduce the impact of the oil?
    • Is it better to disperse the oil or leave it undispersed?
    • Is the mixture of oil and dispersant more or less toxic than the oil by itself?

The bottom line is that scientists have little understanding of how dispersant chemicals will affect the Gulf and marine life. If their use is allowed to continue, BP should use the safest and most effective products available, and make a long-term commitment to support research that evaluates their ecological and human-health impacts.

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Fishery Research Accelerated by Oil Spill

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz0VZEjXztM 

EDF staff recently had the privilege to participate in a university-fishing industry research expedition conducted by graduate students from the University of West Florida, on Captain Gary Jarvis’ boat, the Back Down 2, in Destin, Florida.

Underwater surveys explored reef fish populations and their habitat. They were originally scheduled throughout summer, but have been sped-up to serve as baseline samples in case the oil spill spreads as far as Alabama and Florida. These may be particularly important given this weekend's news that large plumes of oil have been found at deep depths offshore.

The researchers have several objectives including exploring fish population structure and habitat and examining fish tissue and stomach contents. Their methods include use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle to view the underwater environment to identify, measure and count fish. The researchers were also studying how varyingly skilled anglers catch fish on different sizes of circle hooks.

Cooperative research has many benefits

Cooperative research trips like this one are good for science and fishing businesses. UWF researchers chartered boats out of ports in Alabama and Pensacola in the week prior, and have scheduled several additional trips with Captain Jarvis and others.  The research rapidly provides much needed data on the health of fish stocks, and provides an opportunity to help charter businesses struggling with lost business from the oil spill.

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Oil Spill Exposes the Flaws of Gulf Recreational Fishing Management

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bni8RT6HgqU

As a massive oil spill and its underwater plumes continue to threaten fisheries in parts of the Gulf, charter captains are in an immediate pinch: their prized red snapper season is about to open on June 1 for just 53 days, but clients are foregoing fishing trips because they are worried about whether it is safe to visit the coast and fish in the Gulf during the oil spill. Offshore fishing outside the closed spill area remains good, and fishing captains are ready to accommodate customers.

But, Captain Gary Jarvis of Destin, Florida, points to an unexpected impact:  “This oil spill exposes the failure of Gulf recreational fisheries management.” 

With so many cancelled trips, and a short government-set red snapper season, charter fishermen are looking for ways to stay afloat. While traveling the Gulf Coast, I heard a lot of ideas for moving around or extending the 53 day red snapper season.

Click here to learn more about the latest oil spill-related fishing closures in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We need a new way to manage our fishery that gives us the flexibility to deal with these kinds of disasters and run stable businesses,” Jarvis said.

Thankfully, they don’t have to look far for a working model.

“In addition to my charter business, I have a small commercial fishing business,” Jarvis explained. “The commercial side of my business is doing fine. For now, I’m not worried about it because the fishery is managed smartly.”

Gulf commercial red snapper fishermen currently fish under a system called "individual fishing quotas" that allows them to harvest a portion of fish throughout the year when it makes most sense for their business, instead of during a set season.  In exchange for this flexibility, each fishermen is held accountable for his harvest.

"Some form of catch share suitable for the for-hire industry needs to be looked into to see if we can be managed with the flexibility needed to stay profitable and keep the public access open for recreational fisheries," Jarvis said.

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Oil Spill’s Impacts on Fishing Industry Varies for Inshore and Offshore Businesses

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is threatening inshore and offshore fishing industries, families and ocean life. Its long-term impacts are still unknown.   Here’s the latest:

  • Closed fishing grounds – about 7.3% percent of the Gulf – from the Mississippi River to Pensacola are closed, in addition to many inshore Louisiana waters that support family-run shrimping and oyster businesses.
  • Scientists and volunteers are searching for and helping recover oiled birds and other animals; several have been documented so far.
  • Dispersants, chemicals that break up the oil slick, are being used in the Gulf. They can harm offshore ocean life including fish, their spawning and feeding grounds, and other offshore habitat. 

Concern: Louisiana shrimpers and coast are hard hit

Red snapper and shrimp fisherman James Bruce from Cut Off, La. is concerned about the impacts of the oil spill on the Louisiana coast as it spreads.

James Bruce, a red snapper and shrimp fisherman from Cut Off, Louisiana headed out to catch shrimp earlier this week in the few open inshore shrimping areas in his area. He’s unsure how long the opening will last, but is taking advantage of the opportunity. He told us that very few fishermen are working now. “If the well doesn’t stop, we’re history,” James said. “But if the oil gets into the estuaries, we’re really history.” 

Good news: Large areas of the offshore Gulf are still open for fishing

Despite the uncertainty about stopping the spill and clean-up, there is some good news: Many federal fishing grounds are still open and offshore Gulf charter and commercial fishing is still safe.

Some more good news is that demand and prices for commercial fish caught offshore are stable so far, and the fishermen under an individual fishing quota program—one type of catch share management—are able to work around the problem for now.

Fishermen know that this good news could change quickly if the spill isn’t stopped soon.

Unintended consequences of media coverage

We learned last week while visiting the Gulf coast that news stories about the oil spill have hurt fishing businesses located in areas still unaffected by the spill. A few examples include:

  • Last week and this past weekend, we heard that while only a small percent of the Gulf is closed to fishing, charter fishermen told us that they have lost most of their clients for May and trips for coming months have also been cancelled.   
  • On Friday a city leader and seafood business owner in the Florida Panhandle reported that the media has created a “panic,” and that occupancy in some Florida panhandle hotels has dropped from 70 to under 20 percent. 
  • Several folks in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida told us that, regardless of the actual impacts, the general public will be scared to eat Gulf seafood or risk taking a fishing trip.

EDF is working to understand impacts of the spill

EDF is trying to understand the impacts that the oil spill is having on the oceans and fishing industry. We care because a healthy fishing industry and oceans are better able to support healthy fish populations.

Help us out by explaining how the oil spill is affecting you and your business. You can respond with a comment on this blog, or send us an email.

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