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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.
Note: 2013 recreational landings are projected
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new catch share policy, which encourages the use of catch shares to manage fisheries, is exciting news for the Gulf of Mexico’s declining fisheries and struggling fishermen.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council deserves a pat on the back for already considering catch shares for some of its fisheries, and NOAA’s new policy can help jumpstart even more progress to end overfishing in all Gulf fisheries. Ending overfishing is good for Gulf economies and will give fishermen more time on the water.
The red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ), one type of catch share, is wrapping up its third year, and we continue to see the tangible benefits of catch shares: commercial overfishing is ending, fishing businesses are more stable, and bycatch (accidentally-caught fish that must be thrown back in the water and often die) has been significantly reduced.
Other Gulf fisheries and sectors can benefit from catch shares too: Read More
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
Federal regulators recently finalized rules to help regional fishery councils comply with new U.S. fisheries laws to end and prevent overfishing with "annual catch limits" and "accountability measures." This means that tougher limits on fishing are coming, and Gulf fishery managers can take this opportunity to save fisheries and the multi-billion dollars in economic benefits they provide the region. Here's what can be done:
Catch shares should be the preferred accountability measure for reef fisheries. Reef fish are popular commercial and sport fish and some species are in trouble. Catch shares (like IFQs) help fishermen comply with catch limits, while enabling them to fish year-round, reduce waste, and improve business practices. Catch shares are already working for commercial red snapper, and other reef species should be added quickly. They should also be expanded to for-hire charter and party boats. For private anglers, fish harvest tags can improve accountability and extend fishing seasons.
Each sector should have its own catch limit and accountability measures. Sectors include the commercial, for-hire, private angler, and shrimp trawl (for fish accidentally killed in shrimp nets). Each should be alotted a defined portion of the catch and be held responsible for accurately counting fish and complying with its limit.
The Gulf Council is getting started on a "scoping document" to explore preliminary ideas at the June meeting in Tampa. Public meetings will be held later in the summer. Now is the time to let the Council know that catch shares and sector accountability are essential for healthy and prosperous Gulf fisheries.