Selected category: Gulf of Mexico

Here’s why new fishing legislation lacks broad support

Update: The bills outlined in this blog were passed by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources on December 13, 2017. You can read EDF’s full statement here.

In an intensely polarized age, fishery issues have been among the few to stay above the partisan fray on Capitol Hill.  Historically, amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) have proceeded on a virtually consensus basis, with the 2007 reauthorization passing the Senate without a single “no” vote and other relatively minor changes to the law, such as the recent decision to shift management of Dungeness crab to the State of Washington, proceeding with bipartisan support.  In taking this approach, lawmakers are following the lead of user groups, which often overcome legitimate differences on how to approach key issues at the local and regional level. In the past these solutions have followed an overall strategy of science-based management that has sharply reduced overfishing in the United States, fueled the recovery of dozens of depleted species, and enabled higher fishing quotas from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska. Read More »

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Science-based management in U.S. fisheries: Progress and the road ahead

In August, I had the honor of being the co-organizer of a symposium at the American Fisheries Society Annual Meeting titled “Ten Years of Science-Based management in U.S. Fisheries: Progress and the Road Ahead” with my colleague Jake Kritzer.  A distinguished group of eight speakers joined us to present papers on topics ranging from the evolution of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to the benefits that science-based management has yielded for Alaskan fisheries, and discuss how the Act has performed and how to tackle the challenges that remain with fisheries scientists and managers from across the country and globe.

Speakers included scientists, managers, and a commercial fisherman and covered a geographic range from Florida to Alaska.  Some of the speakers approached the subject with experience that extended back to well into the previous versions of the Act.

The consensus could be best summed up by one a point made by Dr. Mike Sissenwine, a council member of New England Fishery Management Council, early in his presentation: Science-based management has worked.

Overall, the group concluded that the current incarnation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act has greatly improved conservation outcomes.  Since the reauthorization, overfishing has decreased dramatically and a significant number of stocks have been rebuilt.

Our commercial fishing participant, Jason de la Cruz from Florida, noted that the current Act made him feel more confident about the basis of decisions and had led to increased opportunities to collaborate on science.  In Alaska, Diana Evans, deputy director for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, highlighted that fishermen and managers now look beyond the difficult task of setting annual catch limits to new management challenges like ecosystem-based fishery management that can be informed by innovative scientific tools being created for their Fishery Ecosystem Plan. Read More »

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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.

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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Can the Gulf States Afford to Manage Red Snapper under H.R. 3094?

red snapper fishing

Photo Credit: GulfWild

In recent years, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery has featured both a tremendous recovery and ongoing controversy. Through the stakeholder-driven process outlined by the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (appointed by Governors from all of the Gulf States) implemented a successful reform of the commercial sector of the red snapper fishery. One of the results has been a near tripling in the fishing quotas for both the recreational and commercial sectors in a matter of years. Despite this dramatic quota increase, federal recreational fishing seasons have shortened. The Council is currently considering proposals to reform and manage the recreational sector to maximize access.

At the same time, some resource users have sought federal legislation exempting the fishery from the very system that helped the red snapper population rebound. Specifically, H.R. 3094 proposes to transfer management for Gulf of Mexico red snapper to a new authority made up of only the directors of the Gulf state fish and wildlife agencies (who already maintain a vote on the current fishery management council). We oppose this approach because it could result in overfishing and make decision-making much less transparent, among other concerns. The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee in June despite bipartisan concerns that it would undermine the conservation provisions of the MSA, and only after it was modified to prohibit any federal funds from being used by the new management authority. As a result, the Gulf States would have to find the resources to fund the extra work.

How much would it cost? In early July, Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) estimated what it would cost the state to conduct the activities involved in managing the federal red snapper fishery: Read More »

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Solutions for recreational red snapper not found in other fisheries

red snapper

Credit: Gulf Wild

The Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery has undergone a tremendous recovery over the last eight years. Thanks to reformed commercial management the stock is rebounding strongly, and as a result this year’s quota is the highest on record. Unfortunately, recreational fishermen have not fully benefited, since their failed management system creates a cycle of shorter and shorter seasons. There are many competing attempts to address this very real problem, including several in Congress.

This week a U.S. House subcommittee will hold a hearing on H.R. 3094, a bill that proposes to transfer management for Gulf of Mexico red snapper to a new authority made up of the directors of the Gulf state fish and wildlife agencies. Some advocates of this approach, which we oppose, have suggested that the states successfully manage striped bass in the mid-Atlantic and Dungeness crab in the Pacific, and therefore transferring management of red snapper to the Gulf States is a good idea.

But these arguments gloss over important differences between red snapper and these other species, making the comparison about as real as most good fish stories. Read More »

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