Author Archives: Pam Baker

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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Face to Face with Gulf Fishermen Impacted by Oil Spill

Click the map to see our route along the coast.

Last week, Laura Williamson and I traveled from the Gulf coast fishing towns of Port Fourchon, Louisiana to Destin, Florida to meet with offshore commercial and recreational fishermen, wholesale fish dealers and restaurant owners to learn how the uncontrolled oil spill is impacting businesses and if there are any ways that our organization can help.

The oil slick and measures to control it present real threats, especially for many struggling Louisiana fishermen and their families who are not able to fish inshore right now.  The good news is that most offshore fishing and many coastal areas are not directly impacted by the oil spill so far, but this is mostly missing from media coverage.

Below is a summary of some important things we learned last week. We’ll post fishermen’s stories over the course of the week.

 
 

EDF met with Alabama charter boat operator Ben Fairey, who is concerned about the negative perception that the media is creating about all Gulf fishing. All of his fishing trips in May have been cancelled because of the perceived impacts of the oil spill, even though fishing is still open and safe in Alabama.

Fishermen face uncertainty

Fishing families, wholesalers, and seafood restaurant owners we met with face tremendous uncertainty, not knowing whether the spill will be contained in another week, or many months from now.  Some fishermen are unsure if they should move their boats to a safer location to keep fishing, or stay put to lend a hand to clean the spill or lease their services to crews of scientists and news reporters. Over the long-term, an uncontrolled spill could have many impacts on fish, oysters, shellfish, wetlands that serve as nurseries, and the rest of the food chain.

 
 
 
 
 

Media misses major angle to the story

 

While the threats are real, the sentiment we heard most loudly and clearly was that the negative reports from the media are mostly exaggerated, at least for the current situation, and are driving away tourists and regular offshore fishing clients from areas that are not affected.  There is a lot of exasperation over this. Several folks told us that people will be scared to eat Gulf seafood or risk taking a fishing trip. At the same time, people understand that this might become an “unprecedented disaster,” as it is currently being portrayed, if oil continues spilling for a long time.

Fishing communities want solutions

People told us they want solutions, but recognize that the oil industry has a huge economic impact in many parts of the Gulf.  They believe that the accident should provide lessons-learned for environmental protections and alternative energy.

Solutions for fishing communities: tell us what you think

EDF is working to understand what fishing communities need to get through this hard time.  We’re also interested in improving offshore fishery management to develop sustainable fish populations and fishing practices and businesses that are resilient to natural and man-made disasters. 

EDF has been working in the Gulf for 15 years and this oil spill threatens the fishing communities of the Gulf that have become national leaders in transforming oceans fisheries to models of sustainability.

Help us 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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Louisiana Oil Spill to Seriously Impact Marine Life and Fishing Communities in the Gulf; Federal Government Must Act Swiftly

NASA satellite view of the Louisiana coastline showing the oil spill creeping toward the Mississippi Delta.

NASA satellite view of the Louisiana coastline showing the oil spill creeping toward the Mississippi Delta.

The ocean ecosystems and fishing communities in the Gulf of Mexico face potentially catastrophic impacts as a result of the 5,000 barrels of oil a day spewing out of the sub-seabed and into the waters off the coast of Louisiana. Oil moving throughout vast expanses of Gulf waters and ocean habitat and coming ashore on the massive Gulf Coast wetlands directly threatens not just the reef fish, oysters, crabs and shrimp that actually live there, but also many other species that use the reefs, marshes and other wetlands as nurseries, or that depend upon them for prey which lives or develops there.

The beaches that are likely to be coated with oil also provide important feeding grounds for shorebirds and fish alike, and essential nesting areas for sea turtles. In addition, a large number of ocean species release larvae to drift with the currents in near-surface waters — exactly where the oil currently is — in their most vulnerable life stages.

Together, a huge fraction of the fish production in the region is at risk – a body blow both to marine ecosystems and the multi-billion dollar coastal industries tied to commercial fishing and seafood, and sport fisheries and recreation. It is especially sad that this catastrophe threatens the fishing communities of the Gulf that have become national leaders in transforming oceans fisheries to models of sustainability. EDF calls on the federal government to act swiftly to minimize preventable damage, but also with compassion to bring aid and assistance to already-reeling coastal communities.

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Scientists Say Gulf Red Snapper May Be Making a Comeback

Red snapper (7)

Last week the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's Science and Statistical Committee updated its regional red snapper stock assessment and found signs that the population, though not recovered, is finally beginning to make a comeback. There is work ahead and many unknowns remain, but this looks like great news for fishermen, local communities and the environment.

At its February meeting, the Council will likely increase the quantity of fish that fishermen are allowed to catch. Commercial fishermen working under a successful red snapper management plan called an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) will have a good chance to be rewarded with more fish next year (and beyond). This sector poses little risk because fishermen are living within their catch limits, they have reduced the number of fish that must be thrown overboard dying to comply with closed season and size limit regulations, and they follow strict monitoring and accountability rules. At the same time, IFQ management has helped fishermen improve and stabilize dockside prices, reduce the costs to harvest fish, and provide higher quality fish to consumers.

On the other hand, it is less certain how the recreational fishery will fare. This is because the sector's management plan is not working and fails to help anglers abide by their scientifically-safe catch limit. Any potential change in the amount of fish a sector is allowed to bring to shore must account for such past and anticipated overharvests. Read More »

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New Red Snapper IFQ Report Raises Hope for Other Troubled Fisheries

Pam Baker, EDF Sr. Policy Advisor for the Gulf of Mexico region

No matter how many scientific studies emerge confirming the benefits of catch shares, you always have opponents who say catch shares may work in “theory,” but still have doubts about their real-life application.

However, it’s hard to refute on-the-ground, tangible results, like those shown down in the Gulf of Mexico.

This week the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released the 2008 annual report reviewing the progress of its Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper individual fishing quota program (IFQ), which is a type of catch share.

The report shows continued success for red snapper two years into the program, and provides additional support for implementing IFQs to rebuild other troubled fisheries.

The report’s conservation highlights include:

  • Overfishing is being reversed in the commercial fishery.
  • Fishermen have caught under less than allotment by 2.5-4.0 percent in the past two years.
  • Fishermen cut their ratio of wasted fish to fish taken to the docks by almost 70 percent.  (Before the IFQ, for every fish a fisherman kept, he threw one back dead. Now, fishermen only throw one back for every three to four that they keep.)

The report’s economic highlights include:

  • Long season closures and extreme market swings have been eliminated. 
  • With year-round fishing, fishermen bring high quality fish to the dock when consumer demand is high, helping their businesses remain profitable. 
  • The price fishermen pay for quota, the long-term privilege to catch red snapper, rose by 37 percent, reflecting optimism for a healthy fishery and a commitment to conservation.

With the conservation gains seen in the commercial red snapper fishery in just a few years, we are optimistic that rebuilding is getting underway and the payoff might be a rising catch limit in the near future. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is on the right track by considering IFQs and other catch share plans for many of its other commercial and sport fisheries that are in dire need of better management.

The NMFS report concludes that the commercial red snapper fishery is on the right track, and it identifies a few ways that it can be improved.  For example, the mislabeling of fish needs to be stopped, and better ways are needed to count dead fish that some vessels continue to throw overboard, especially off of the Florida peninsula coast.

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