Eight months after Hurricane Ike slammed Texas' largest fishing community, Galveston is steadily recovering from the storm. Red snapper fishermen under IFQ management kept their businesses going because they could fish later in the year and lease quota to others when they couldn't fish themselves. Read more.
Destroyed Kemp's ridley turtle habitat
Endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles have shown a strong come-back in recent years. Unfortunately, Hurricane Ike damaged and piled debris on their South Padre Island nesting beaches. Volunteers worked to restore and clean up the sites before the turtles' nesting season, which began last month. Experts are hopeful that these efforts will help Kemp's ridleys keep recovering. 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.
The Gulf Council recently voted to consider adding all reef fish to the successful IFQ program already working for red snapper and coming on-line for grouper and tilefish in January. When implemented, it will be one of the largest and most modern and effective management systems in the U.S.
With comprehensive reef fish IFQs, progress to end overfishing will continue and potential problems, such as fishing effort shifting to less regulated species, will be prevented. It will also reduce wasted fish.
The remaining reef fish include vermilion snapper, greater amberjack, gray triggerfish, yellowtail snapper and dozens more. At its June meeting, the Council is expected to refine the fishery management plan process and timelines for getting started.
January marked the second anniversary of the Gulf's red snapper IFQ program. Fortunately, fishermen, regulators and environmentalists continue to report good news compared to the decade the fishery suffered under destructive derby management (also known as a “race” for the limited number of snapper that fishermen were allowed to catch each year).
Year-round fish supplies and excellent quality mean that dockside prices climbed and have remained steady at least 25% higher than under the derby. Fishermen are allowed to keep most of the fish they catch, so the number of dead discarded fish (also known as bycatch) has been significantly cut. And, like the previous year, the annual catch was about three percent under its limit.
The West Coast is a big step closer to improving management of its valuable and struggling groundfish fishery. A plan for individual fishing quotas (IFQs) was identified as a top priority for the groundfish commercial trawl fishery by fishermen and the regional fishery management council. A goal for implementation in 2011 has been set.
This program and one in Alaska, along with the Gulf of Mexico’s recently approved commercial red snapper, grouper and tilefish IFQs are the newest additions to the United States’ catch share portfolio – now 20 programs strong. The first catch share in the U.S. was implemented in 1990 as an IFQs for the Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog fishery. Since then, states like Alaska have led the way with IFQs, community development quotas and cooperatives for its halibut, sablefish, crab, and pollock fleets. And, New England has implemented catch share “sector” management for portions of the hook and line and fixed gear cod fisheries.
These various catch share programs have benefits not often found under traditional management — they are successful in keeping harvests in-line with catch limits, reducing wasted fish and helping fishermen improve business practices.
Learn more about catch shares or see a fact sheet on IFQs.