Selected tags: Commercial Fishing

Lawsuits and lasting solutions for the Gulf’s red snapper fishery

For media inquiries please contact:

Matt Smelser, msmelser@edf.org, (512) 731-3023

EDF takes another step today in our decades-long pursuit of vibrant, productive fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico when we file an amicus brief in an ongoing lawsuit over the red snapper fishery. The issue at hand is whether NOAA violated federal law in its management of the recreational sector, allowing significant overharvesting and in so doing potentially jeopardizing one of the nation’s biggest success stories in fisheries recovery. It’s always unfortunate when fisheries challenges end up in the courtroom. In this instance, we hope that there’ll be a simultaneous uptake of tangible solutions that can improve recreational fishing opportunity while ensuring continued growth and recovery of the red snapper population. The good news is that Gulf fishermen, just as they have in the past, are coming forward with creative management ideas that we need for long-term success. We should build on that to forge greater cooperation and ensure everyone can share in the benefits of a thriving red snapper fishery.

In many ways the story of Gulf red snapper in recent years is one of remarkable accomplishment. Bold leadership from fishermen—and decisive action by the Gulf Fishery Management Council—put the depleted red snapper fishery on the path to recovery. Failed commercial fishery management was fixed with a catch share program that imposed individual accountability, reduced waste, and helped end chronic overfishing. This new system has yielded remarkable dividends, allowing the safe catch for both the recreational and commercial sectors to more than double since 2008. This increase has helped reinvigorate coastal seafood businesses and brought more fresh local seafood to dinner tables across the Gulf and beyond. EDF is proud to have contributed to this success.

But there’s still a fundamental problem: profound failure in recreational management is denying anglers the benefits they should be enjoying, while threatening to turn back the clock on sustainability. Although the recreational allocation has remained constant at 49 percent of the fishery, the growing Gulf red snapper “pie” is not leading to enhanced recreational fishing opportunities. On the contrary, both individual anglers and charter boat captains face growing frustration. Catch is still controlled by season and bag limits (in addition to size limits), which have shrunk dramatically. The 2013 recreational season was just 42 days.

2013 recreational landings landings based on preliminary data

Note: 2013 recreational landings are projected

This same failed recreational management system threatens to undermine recovery of the red snapper population. Through no fault of Gulf anglers who play by the rules, red snapper have been overharvested in the recreational fishery in six of the last seven years, often by significant margins. Preliminary data suggests that in 2013 recreational catch exceeded its quota by close to 100 percent. Recovery of red snapper is too fragile to tolerate a system that routinely breaches science-based limits. A new benchmark assessment released last year showed that while we’ve made progress, red snapper are still overfished and we’ve had weaker than usual recruitment in recent years. It is clear that failed recreational management is not only limiting recreational opportunities, it could endanger the long-term health of the fishery.

We call for fresh thinking about how management in the recreational red snapper fishery can be improved. That thinking can help move us towards a recreational fishery with both year-round fishing opportunities for Gulf anglers and long-term sustainability. Decision-makers must consider new management solutions, reduce tensions and foster greater collaboration among fishing sectors.

The good news is that fishermen are generating new ideas. Recreational participants have asked for solutions that will allow seasons to be longer and more flexible.

In the charter boat sector, many believe that the successful commercial management program could offer charter captains a model for how to lengthen their seasons and increase revenues. Meanwhile, Gulf anglers have previously proposed a tagging program similar to those used for hunting large game. Tags could be managed at the state or local level, by state wildlife agencies or local fishing clubs.

Rather than let this litigation drag on, the Gulf Fishery Management Council should use its meeting next month to urgently consider such new management approaches. And instead of digging in on opposing sides, stakeholders should come together to forge lasting solutions. We will be offering more ideas on such approaches in the months ahead. We all have a shared interest in a healthy Gulf and vibrant red snapper fishery. Bold and creative reform can offer win-win solutions that enhance recreational opportunities while conserving red snapper—for today’s anglers and for generations to come.

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Time to end the sniping over snapper

red snapper fishing

Photo Credit: GulfWild

The short seasons, decreasing bag limits and failing management of the recreational red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico has everyone that cares about the fishery upset.  States are demanding changes from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), lawsuits have been filed, contentious proposals are before the Gulf Council and Congress has started to look into the matter.

As always, a war of words is underway online and in the press – some of it is outrageous.  Whenever the issue comes up that management is failing for recreational fishing, the Recreational Fishing Alliance tries to change the subject by promoting outlandish conspiracy theories and allegations.  Most of these are aimed at EDF. We’re used to that by now.

They also attack mainstream anglers, because mainstream anglers such as the Coastal Conservation Association talk about the real issues – at least part of the time.  CCA this week followed in the wake of the latest spasm from RFA, suggesting that EDF is backing a lawsuit filed by commercial fishermen.  We are not.

We want recreational fishermen to be successful.  We want the same thing for commercial fishermen and have made great progress working with that sector, including with the commercial fishermen who filed the lawsuit.  While we cannot blame them for suing, it is not of our doing.  We are working towards a management solution that is sustainable for the red snapper fishery and works for all parties involved. Here are the facts about EDF’s position on the recreational red snapper fishery and the recent lawsuit filed by commercial fishermen over NMFS’s mismanagement of it:

  1. EDF is neither a plaintiff in this lawsuit nor are we funding it.
  2. We agree with CCA and RFA that the short seasons and bag limits that are robbing the recreational side of the red snapper fishery stink and punish everyone, and we’re eager to discuss solutions.  Regional management has been offered by CCA and other anglers as an alternative, and we agree that states are well-positioned to manage private anglers.  Yet, the current proposals need significant changes in order to truly improve recreational management. Finding the ways that regional management could work is what we should be talking about.
  3. EDF is proud of its work with commercial fishermen, many of whom are parties to the lawsuit, to implement the red snapper IFQ for the commercial fishery, which has been a major factor in ending commercial overfishing and rebuilding the red snapper stock.
  4. EDF wants to sustain and improve the valuable economic engine of all fishing, commercial and recreational.  The commercial red snapper fishery adds enormous economic value throughout the Gulf, employing workers in fish-processing, trucking, restaurants, retail outlets and numerous other businesses large and small.  Recreational fishing, of which red snapper is a small part, also employs workers and brings revenue to the Gulf, as does all fishing and tourism combined.
  5. Whether you like to eat red snapper in a restaurant, buy it at the store or catch it yourself, you need the entire fishery to be economically successful and sustainable.  The red snapper IFQ program has directly led to both those results on the commercial side.  It’s past time to find a solution for the recreational side.

We think it’s time to talk about new solutions that can actually begin to solve some of the problems facing the fishery.  EDF’s Gulf of Mexico Director, Pam Baker, recently laid out some of those solutions, including delegating authority to the states to implement programs like harvest tags and angler management organizations, in testimony to Congress on the red snapper situation.  You can read Pam’s statement and her testimony here.

EDF is committed to continuing our work with all parties, especially anglers, to find a solution that meets recreational goals, complies with the law and rebuilding targets, and preserves the long-term benefits provided by this shared public resource.

 

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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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Catch Shares Save Fishermen and Fish

Bubba Cochrane with his Boat the Chelsea Ann

Bubba Cochrane. Photo by Mark Thein of GulfWild.

This is a re-post of a National Geographic Blog posted by Miguel Jorge of National Geographic's Ocean Initiative on November 20, 2012

Bubba Cochrane always knew he wanted to be a fisherman. So, despite concerns from his family, he began his career as a deck-hand and eventually saved enough to buy a permit and boat of his own. He’s 43 years old now and owns a commercial fishing business out of Galveston, Texas. Business is good – but he can easily remember what fishing used to be like.

“When I got started, fishing was a race: when the season opened we fished every day until we were notified that the quota was caught. That meant lots of fishing all at once, a glut of fish in the market, and bad prices when we got back to the docks,” said Bubba, reminiscing about his early days in the fishery.

Through the mid-2000s, the red snapper fishery was on the brink of collapse. Even with so few fish in the population and a short season, the fishing derbies meant that the price at the dock stayed low, hurting the profits of commercial fishermen. Fishery managers tried to address the price problem by breaking up the season into the first 15, then 10 days of each month. Fishermen would fish for 10 days, and then wait until the next month to go out again.

These sporadic openings were not the solution fishermen like Bubba wanted. “It’s hard to run your business in just the first 15 days of a month; a lot can get in the way. I tell people to imagine a gas station only being able to sell gas for the first ten days of each month or a contractor only being able to build houses in that short window.” Read More »

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