Today in Orlando, Florida, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) approved amendment 17A (17A) to the snapper grouper fishery management plan. Now it will go to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke for approval. 17A closes the red snapper fishing season throughout the Southeast. It also closes a 5,000 square mile area for additional kinds of snapper and grouper fishing from Georgia to South Florida. A short-term ban was put in place in January to prevent red snapper fishing, until 17A could be finalized.
While today’s passage of 17A fulfills the Council’s legal requirements to end overfishing of red snapper, it does not provide an effective long-term strategy for a healthy fishery. In reality, it reinforces many other problems:
- Commercial and charter fishermen going out of business;
- Difficulty in finding local fish in restaurants and stores; and
- Recreational fishermen – including tourists – not being able to fish as much, which hurts countless bait and tackle shops, boat dealers and mechanics, and tourist hotels and restaurants.
Catch shares allow fishing as fish populations rebuild
EDF believes that catch share management is the best option for the commercial and for-hire (charter and party boats) sectors of the snapper and grouper fishery. Catch shares could potentially replace 17A’s closures with fishing seasons and reduce closed areas while fish populations rebuild. Private anglers deserve an opportunity to catch red snapper too, and fishermen and the Council have an opportunity to improve the management by exploring new tools like a tagging program.
Growing numbers of Southeast fishermen agree that catch shares are the best way forward.
Catch shares set a scientifically-based limit on the total amount of fish that can be caught and then divide that amount among individual fishermen or groups of fishermen. Studies have shown that catch shares bring fish populations back and benefit fishermen. With catch shares, fishermen have much more flexibility on when to fish, are held individually accountable for what they catch, are no longer forced to waste tons of fish by throwing them overboard, and fishing can be more profitable.
A looming disaster: Effort shift
When 17A is implemented, fishermen will focus on other kinds of fish, instead of red snapper. This can damage other fish populations or underwater habitat. Also, the uncontrolled BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may push Gulf fishermen into Southeast waters. Both situations will increase the amount of fishing pressure on an already distressed fishery. Catch shares reduce the need for season and area closures and the chance of damaging effort shift in fisheries.
Catch share success is proven
Successful catch share management is in place in the Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper, grouper and tilefish fisheries and hundreds of other fisheries worldwide. Just three years after the red snapper catch share in the Gulf of Mexico went into place, the amount of wasted fish was reduced significantly, fishermen made higher profits, and fish populations were rebounding. With the BP Oil Disaster, the flexibility of catch shares allows fishermen in areas closed to fishing to sell or lease their shares of fish to fishermen in open areas.
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