A large group of chub (Kyphosus sp.) school under the platform. Photo: Schmahl/FGBNMS (From NOAA)
Despite a lot of bad weather and the end of red snapper season, fishing is heating up in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing isn’t the only thing that’s hot, though, as the debate over removing non-producing oil rigs in the Gulf is also going at a fever pitch.
I wrote back in late April about the current controversy regarding plans by the Department of Interior (DOI) for the expedited removal of these retired rigs. Lots of recreational fishermen oppose this policy, because the underwater structure creates a reef habitat for fish – nice for the fish – but also a great target for fishermen.
Several actions are underway to ensure that removal is just an option and that artificial reefing is also an option. As I mentioned in that previous post, Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana have introduced bills in Congress. Since then, there was a proposal to amend the Farm Bill with a provision on rigs and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is continuing the process to designate the retired rigs as “essential fish habitat.” Also, other members of Congress, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, state fisheries managers and sportfishing groups have all written letters to Secretary Ken Salazar seeking at least a delay in implementing outright removals and, ideally, a new policy altogether.
EDF is helping call attention to these proposals and requests. In our meetings and conversations with staff at the White House and Department of Interior it has been clear that confusion is a big stumbling block. We all need better numbers and information about what is going on. What seems to many to be a deadline for removal is, to the government, only a requirement to file a plan for either reefing or removal. Boat captains have tallied removals that they have seen, and the agency has different numbers. Read More
Photo courtesy of Gulf Wild™
It wasn’t that long ago that the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery was on the brink of collapse. The fishermen were stuck in a race-for-fish that was both dangerous and expensive.
Fishermen were going out of business or barely hanging on, and the red snapper population was in serious trouble. The out-dated fishery management system wasn’t working, and consumers could only count on getting fresh, local snapper during a brief season every year. That was until a group of commercial fishermen and EDF came together to find a solution.
That solution – the red snapper catch share program – began in 2007. Because this program proved successful almost immediately, fishermen were able to expand the program to include grouper and tilefish in 2010. This has helped to make commercial fishing a viable industry again, consumers are able to get fish they love year-round, the amount of wasted fish has dramatically decreased, and once depleted populations are steadily rebuilding. Read More
Last night the House and Senate agreed to compromise language on a broad set of initiatives referred to as the transportation bill. Included in this “must-pass” bill is legislation dealing with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill known as the RESTORE Act. There is much to applaud in this bill; for example, it provides important funding for fisheries science and research. It’s too bad it also contains an empty political gesture against a fishery management tool that has benefitted the Gulf’s fishermen.
The RESTORE Act directs the penalties received by the federal government as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster to the affected region, including, at Senator Nelson’s particular insistence, providing funding for research to “support . . . the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem, fish stocks, fish habitat, and the recreational, commercial, and charter fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico.” At a time of scarce funds and great need, this effort will help the marine resources and fishermen of the Gulf recover from the blow they suffered two years ago.
Unfortunately, the bill also contains a gratuitous slap at the region’s fishermen by prohibiting the use of the funds provided in the bill for the development or approval of new catch share programs along the east coast or the Gulf of Mexico. The catch share language echoes an amendment previously offered by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) – but here it means absolutely nothing given a separate prohibition on using the money for any form of fisheries regulation. Read More
Under catch shares, fishermen have a strong incentive to become stewards of their fishery because they benefit directly from conservation practices, better monitoring, and improving information about stock conditions. A new study also confirms there is a positive change in incentives towards better compliance under catch shares management.
Last week, Marine Policy released a study by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) analyzing the relationship of enforcement and compliance behavior in the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program, a catch share program implemented in 2007. The goal of the study was to better understand how catch shares management affects enforcement and compliance behavior. Enforcement records and fishermen surveys were used to compare enforcement practices and cases of noncompliance five years before and after IFQ implementation. Read More
Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper
For another year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has approved an increase in the total allowable catch (TAC) for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. The TAC is the overall cap (in pounds) of fish that fishermen are allowed to catch each year and is distributed to the commercial sector, which receives 51% of it, and the recreational sector, which receives 49%.
This increase of 12% brings the TAC up to 8.08 million pounds of red snapper. Overall, the TAC has been increased by 60% since the beginning of the commercial catch share program for red snapper in 2007. Both commercial and recreational fishermen have seen consistent increases in the amount of fish they are able to catch since the catch share program began.
Last week, on the first of June, the recreational red snapper season began. Recreational fishermen have grown increasingly frustrated by short fishing seasons. This year they will only have 40 days to fish for red snapper, down from 48 days in 2011. And recreational fishermen are still being managed by closed seasons and bag limits. Read More
In a disappointing move for the environment and the fishing industry, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a rider that would effectively ban new federal catch shares for fisheries in the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Thanks in large part to catch shares, many fisheries in the United States have been turning a corner after decades of overfishing, massive job losses and closures. Fish caught in catch shares currently account for about half of the value and over three quarters of the volume of commercial landings in federal waters.
Some fisheries still under conventional management have not yet recovered, causing fishermen to suffer. This misguided rider would thwart progress and take a proven tool off the table for struggling fishermen and regional fishery management councils.
The rider was approved by a vote of 220-191, a smaller margin than when a similar rider was approved last year by a vote of 259-159. More members of Congress have come to oppose a ban because they want to make our oceans more sustainable for the fish and fishermen. Read More
By Jack Sterne, Director of Strategic Initiatives
Jack Sterne, EDF's Director of Strategic Initiatives
Anyone who’s enjoyed fishing in the Gulf of Mexico can share a story about how great the fishing is around an oil rig. Fish love structure, and I know my fishing is always better around these types of hot spots. A downed tree, a dock, a live reef, or an artificial reef – all of these places typically produce great fishing and any fisherman worth his or her salt knows to target them.
That’s why it’s so disconcerting to the Gulf’s recreational fishermen that the Department of Interior has announced its intention to begin enforcing a long-dormant policy requiring the removal of non-producing drilling rigs in the Gulf. Requiring the blanket removal of these rigs threatens to rob the Gulf of some of its favorite fishing spots. In addition, under a balanced management plan, providing for fishing access and designed for population productivity, the non-producing rigs may be useful in enhancing fish stocks in places where habitat is limiting.
Given these facts, the Department of Interior should halt its plan for blanket removal of these rigs. Recent legislation (S. 1555) introduced by Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana would help modify the policy requiring rig removal and create a “Reef Maintenance Fund” that would finance the maintenance of the artificial reefs created by decommissioned rigs. Rig owners would be required to contribute approximately half of the cost they would have incurred in removing the rig had they chosen not to participate in the program. Read More
Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service recently released the Gulf of Mexico 2010 Red Snapper Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Annual Report, and it provides a wealth of data and information collected during the fourth year of the IFQ program. The report comes as the 5-year review of the IFQ is underway, and offers us a chance to use the latest data to evaluate the success of the program.
By all counts, the IFQ has been a success. Back in 2006 when the Gulf Council was considering various management options in the red snapper fishery, fishermen had a short season each year, and had to go out even in dangerous conditions. The markets were flooded with fish for a short period of the year (and fishermen got low prices for their fish), and since the fishermen couldn't decide when, where, or how to fish, they had excessive bycatch of red snapper and everything else. And to top it all off, they ended up going over quota anyway.
Then in 2007, the IFQ brought in a new way of doing things. After getting approved overwhelmingly by local fishermen in not one but two referendums, the IFQ brought flexibility and stability to the fishing industry. Fishing days increased from an average of 77 days before catch shares to 365 days a year. Catch shares improved the stability of fishing employment; they allowed vessel owners the opportunity to provide full time jobs to qualified captains and deckhands, without the variability that results from short seasons. In contrast, recreational fishermen only had 53 days to fish for red snapper (not including lost days due to the oil spill) under traditional management in 2010, and only 48 days in 2011. Read More