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
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
On Jan. 1, 18 Gulf of Mexico commercially-caught grouper and tilefish species were added to the region’s individual fishing quota (IFQ) program, a type of catch share. This newly expanded program is a big conservation victory. Now, 19 valuable Gulf fisheries are being managed under a tool proven to rebuild struggling fish stocks.
This move is good for small and large fishing businesses. A year-round fishing season is just one of many benefits. See National Fisherman's article on how the new IFQ program is already making a difference.
Unfortunately, grouper fishermen in the Southeast aren’t faring as well under traditional management. They’re in the middle of a four month fishing closure. This isn’t just hard on fishermen, it’s hard on local restaurants and other businesses too. Southeast fishery managers should consider catch shares to eliminate these devastating season closures and bring fish populations back to health quickly.
Finally, we want to congratulate the fishermen, Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and others who worked so hard to add grouper and tilefish to the Gulf’s IFQ. We are excited to see the progress that these fisheries will make in the coming year.
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
This morning the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made one of the most significant decisions in the name of saving Gulf of Mexico fisheries, fishermen, and coastal fishing communities by approving a multi-species individual fishing quota (IFQ) program for Gulf of Mexico grouper and tilefish. The program will be implemented in January, creating one of the largest multi-species IFQ programs in federal waters of the continental U.S.
The grouper/tilefish IFQ will build on the successful record of the red snapper IFQ, which has already significantly contributed to the recovery of the stressed red snapper species. Together, the programs will offer even more conservation benefits than either program alone.
Fishermen are ecstatic and so are we. It has been a long process, but with support from fishermen (who voted in favor of the IFQ by more than 80%), managers (the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted in favor of the IFQ by more than 75%) and environmentalists, NOAA is implementing a strong conservation program that is welcomed by many.
No matter how many scientific studies emerge confirming the benefits of catch shares, you always have opponents who say catch shares may work in “theory,” but still have doubts about their real-life application.
However, it’s hard to refute on-the-ground, tangible results, like those shown down in the Gulf of Mexico.
This week the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released the 2008 annual report reviewing the progress of its Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper individual fishing quota program (IFQ), which is a type of catch share.
The report shows continued success for red snapper two years into the program, and provides additional support for implementing IFQs to rebuild other troubled fisheries.
The report’s conservation highlights include:
- Overfishing is being reversed in the commercial fishery.
- Fishermen have caught under less than allotment by 2.5-4.0 percent in the past two years.
- Fishermen cut their ratio of wasted fish to fish taken to the docks by almost 70 percent. (Before the IFQ, for every fish a fisherman kept, he threw one back dead. Now, fishermen only throw one back for every three to four that they keep.)
The report’s economic highlights include:
- Long season closures and extreme market swings have been eliminated.
- With year-round fishing, fishermen bring high quality fish to the dock when consumer demand is high, helping their businesses remain profitable.
- The price fishermen pay for quota, the long-term privilege to catch red snapper, rose by 37 percent, reflecting optimism for a healthy fishery and a commitment to conservation.
With the conservation gains seen in the commercial red snapper fishery in just a few years, we are optimistic that rebuilding is getting underway and the payoff might be a rising catch limit in the near future. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is on the right track by considering IFQs and other catch share plans for many of its other commercial and sport fisheries that are in dire need of better management.
The NMFS report concludes that the commercial red snapper fishery is on the right track, and it identifies a few ways that it can be improved. For example, the mislabeling of fish needs to be stopped, and better ways are needed to count dead fish that some vessels continue to throw overboard, especially off of the Florida peninsula coast.