Earlier this month I took a few of my staff down to Galveston, TX to meet with fishermen and get some first-hand learning on the water and at the docks.
We started by taking a recreational fishing trip 30 miles into the Gulf of Mexico with a fisherman friend who answered every question in the book, like “where does this bait (sardines) come from?” to “how has Hurricane Ike damage affected local fishing businesses?” We got some great insight into how for-hire fishing businesses operate and had some fun at the same time.
The next morning I got a special treat when I met a red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ) shareholder at the docks to watch him offload 17,000 pounds of red and vermilion snapper after a six day commercial fishing trip. I was given a tour of the boat and learned some of the nitty-gritty details about running a commercial fishing business.
While I’d barely met the fishermen who were offloading, they were extremely enthusiastic about the Gulf’s IFQ program. These fishermen described the drastic difference, a very positive difference, that the IFQ made for their businesses in just the first six months.
Just last week our fisheries policy guru, Shems Jud, attended the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Spokane, WA. After a six year process, this meeting was the last opportunity for the Council to develop and decide on unfinalized components of the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) or catch share program for the trawl sector of the Pacific Groundfish fishery.
A few positive highlights to report from the meeting:
- Most importantly, implementation of the program will not be pushed back and is still on track for the target date of January 1, 2011.
- The precedent-setting Adaptive Management Program (AMP), a tool that promotes social, economic and conservation goals by pro-actively dedicating ten percent of the fish quota to a “public trust” like pool, will be implemented in year three of the program.
- The carry over provision—which works like a cell phone plan’s roll-over minutes, but for your fish quota—will remain in the fishery’s management plan.
The program is nearing the finish line now after more than a five year stakeholder design process. Last November, the Council made a historic decision by voting unanimously for a catch share management system in the groundfish trawl sector, one of the four major sectors of the fishery. Instead of managing just a single stock, this complex catch share will manage the largest number of species of any fishery in the U.S. In addition, there are unprecedented features to the program, including the AMP and providing for fishermen to fish their quota using other gear types.
Next Steps? NMFS still has to draft a regulatory package that lays out the specifics about how the catch share will actually work. This proposal will be reviewed by the Council in September in a process called “deeming”. In the coming year, the three West Coast states will work with NMFS on making sure the new infrastructure and staffing are in place in preparation for the fishery to transform to catch shares on time by 2011. And finally, this landmark decision will need the signature of Gary Locke, the Secretary of Commerce.
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.