Selected tags: Recreational Fishing

Lawsuits and lasting solutions for the Gulf’s red snapper fishery

For media inquiries please contact:

Matt Smelser, msmelser@edf.org, (512) 731-3023

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.

2013 recreational landings landings based on preliminary data

Note: 2013 recreational landings are projected

This same failed recreational management system threatens to undermine recovery of the red snapper population. Through no fault of Gulf anglers who play by the rules, red snapper have been overharvested in the recreational fishery in six of the last seven years, often by significant margins. Preliminary data suggests that in 2013 recreational catch exceeded its quota by close to 100 percent. Recovery of red snapper is too fragile to tolerate a system that routinely breaches science-based limits. A new benchmark assessment released last year showed that while we’ve made progress, red snapper are still overfished and we’ve had weaker than usual recruitment in recent years. It is clear that failed recreational management is not only limiting recreational opportunities, it could endanger the long-term health of the fishery.

We call for fresh thinking about how management in the recreational red snapper fishery can be improved. That thinking can help move us towards a recreational fishery with both year-round fishing opportunities for Gulf anglers and long-term sustainability. Decision-makers must consider new management solutions, reduce tensions and foster greater collaboration among fishing sectors.

The good news is that fishermen are generating new ideas. Recreational participants have asked for solutions that will allow seasons to be longer and more flexible.

In the charter boat sector, many believe that the successful commercial management program could offer charter captains a model for how to lengthen their seasons and increase revenues. Meanwhile, Gulf anglers have previously proposed a tagging program similar to those used for hunting large game. Tags could be managed at the state or local level, by state wildlife agencies or local fishing clubs.

Rather than let this litigation drag on, the Gulf Fishery Management Council should use its meeting next month to urgently consider such new management approaches. And instead of digging in on opposing sides, stakeholders should come together to forge lasting solutions. We will be offering more ideas on such approaches in the months ahead. We all have a shared interest in a healthy Gulf and vibrant red snapper fishery. Bold and creative reform can offer win-win solutions that enhance recreational opportunities while conserving red snapper—for today’s anglers and for generations to come.

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Time to end the sniping over snapper

red snapper fishing

Photo Credit: GulfWild

The short seasons, decreasing bag limits and failing management of the recreational red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico has everyone that cares about the fishery upset.  States are demanding changes from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), lawsuits have been filed, contentious proposals are before the Gulf Council and Congress has started to look into the matter.

As always, a war of words is underway online and in the press – some of it is outrageous.  Whenever the issue comes up that management is failing for recreational fishing, the Recreational Fishing Alliance tries to change the subject by promoting outlandish conspiracy theories and allegations.  Most of these are aimed at EDF. We’re used to that by now.

They also attack mainstream anglers, because mainstream anglers such as the Coastal Conservation Association talk about the real issues – at least part of the time.  CCA this week followed in the wake of the latest spasm from RFA, suggesting that EDF is backing a lawsuit filed by commercial fishermen.  We are not.

We want recreational fishermen to be successful.  We want the same thing for commercial fishermen and have made great progress working with that sector, including with the commercial fishermen who filed the lawsuit.  While we cannot blame them for suing, it is not of our doing.  We are working towards a management solution that is sustainable for the red snapper fishery and works for all parties involved. Here are the facts about EDF’s position on the recreational red snapper fishery and the recent lawsuit filed by commercial fishermen over NMFS’s mismanagement of it:

  1. EDF is neither a plaintiff in this lawsuit nor are we funding it.
  2. We agree with CCA and RFA that the short seasons and bag limits that are robbing the recreational side of the red snapper fishery stink and punish everyone, and we’re eager to discuss solutions.  Regional management has been offered by CCA and other anglers as an alternative, and we agree that states are well-positioned to manage private anglers.  Yet, the current proposals need significant changes in order to truly improve recreational management. Finding the ways that regional management could work is what we should be talking about.
  3. EDF is proud of its work with commercial fishermen, many of whom are parties to the lawsuit, to implement the red snapper IFQ for the commercial fishery, which has been a major factor in ending commercial overfishing and rebuilding the red snapper stock.
  4. EDF wants to sustain and improve the valuable economic engine of all fishing, commercial and recreational.  The commercial red snapper fishery adds enormous economic value throughout the Gulf, employing workers in fish-processing, trucking, restaurants, retail outlets and numerous other businesses large and small.  Recreational fishing, of which red snapper is a small part, also employs workers and brings revenue to the Gulf, as does all fishing and tourism combined.
  5. Whether you like to eat red snapper in a restaurant, buy it at the store or catch it yourself, you need the entire fishery to be economically successful and sustainable.  The red snapper IFQ program has directly led to both those results on the commercial side.  It’s past time to find a solution for the recreational side.

We think it’s time to talk about new solutions that can actually begin to solve some of the problems facing the fishery.  EDF’s Gulf of Mexico Director, Pam Baker, recently laid out some of those solutions, including delegating authority to the states to implement programs like harvest tags and angler management organizations, in testimony to Congress on the red snapper situation.  You can read Pam’s statement and her testimony here.

EDF is committed to continuing our work with all parties, especially anglers, to find a solution that meets recreational goals, complies with the law and rebuilding targets, and preserves the long-term benefits provided by this shared public resource.

 

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Recreational red snapper management system "stinks and punishes everyone"

Charter boats allow recreational fishermen who do not have their own boats to fish for iconic species such as this Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper. Photo Credit Gulf Wild™

As the Gulf of Mexico red snapper allocation becomes a hot topic for both recreational and commercial fishermen, I wrote to Saving Seafood to set the record straight about Environmental Defense Fund’s work in the Gulf of Mexico and views on the issues facing fishermen.  An excerpt can be found below:

“Gulf of Mexico states and their anglers are increasingly frustrated with short seasons for prized red snapper in federal waters.  They have every right to be angry. The management of the recreational share of the fishery is utterly failing. This year’s projected federal season of a few weeks at best, together with large over-harvests each year, are obvious signs.  The system stinks and punishes everyone including those who enjoy fishing on their own and fishermen and families who use for-hire guides to access the Gulf.

There are a lot of passionate voices advocating change. Open discussion should be respected and welcome – in fact, exploration of new ideas is the only way to get closer to solutions.  Unfortunately, the gossip and finger-pointing simply diverts attention from important issues and does nothing to help.

I am proud of the partnerships between Environmental Defense Fund and fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.  I am convinced that cooperation between conservationists, fishermen and government are critical to the long term health of the Gulf.  I am also convinced that the progress of commercial red snapper management towards rebuilding the fish population and sustained financial viability is vital to success.”

Read the full piece here.

Posted in Catch Shares, Gulf of Mexico | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

How Catch Shares are Working in the Gulf of Mexico

For over 20 years I’ve worked in the field of fisheries and ocean conservation, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico.  During that time I’ve been privileged to catch and enjoy the region’s red snapper, kingfish and flounder.  In my view, we can and should balance conservation of the region’s resources with people’s need for jobs, food, and enjoyment.  In fact, finding the balance is at the heart of the Gulf’s future.

Fisheries management – especially when commercial and recreational goals seem at odds – has been controversial since federal regulations came into play in the 1980s.  A newly used tool in the Gulf called “catch shares” is currently getting a lot of attention, some of it from anglers concerned that it is responsible for increasing recreational regulations and shrinking access.   This is a misconception.

Recently, an author on the Florida Sportsman’s Conservation Blog questioned whether Environmental Defense Fund is contradicting itself in supporting catch shares to solve overfishing problems in federal commercial fisheries.  The answer is:  “not at all.”  As an organization, EDF works in partnership with industry and communities to find solutions to environmental problems that are also good for the economy.  This is exactly what the Gulf’s catch share programs achieve.  They were implemented with industry leadership and support and are achieving the fishery’s conservation and economic goals. Read More »

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Our National Marine Sanctuaries Are Ready For Anglers

Kids fishing on the seawall as a part of the "Hook Kids On Fishing Event" at the kickoff.

Kids fishing on the seawall as a part of the "Hook Kids On Fishing Event" at the kickoff.

Navigating the rules of recreational fishing can be difficult sometimes; and most anglers strive to be responsible stewards of the ocean’s resource.  That’s why many have avoided fishing our national marine sanctuaries.

As it turns out, fishing is allowed in the majority of our nation’s marine sanctuaries along with diving, surfing and other recreational activities.  In fact, anglers can fish in 98% of the designated sanctuaries along our coastlines.

Environmental Defense Fund believes that the best environmental policies find a way, when possible, to protect important resources while maintaining access for individuals or businesses.  Our National Marine Sanctuaries are great examples of that, and that’s why we are a proud sponsor of the National Marine Sanctuary Classic.

The Classic is a free summer-long fishing and photo contest taking place in four National Marine Sanctuaries: Channel Islands and Monterey Bay, CA on the west coast and the Florida Key, FL and Gray’s Reef, GA on the east coast. Read More »

Posted in EDF Oceans General | Also tagged , , , | Comments closed

Collaboration with Industry is Crucial to Protect Fish and Put Fishermen Back on the Water

Heather Paffe, Regional Director, Gulf of Mexico and Southeast

Heather Paffe, Regional Director, Gulf of Mexico and Southeast - EDF Oceans

In many fisheries, the rules for recreational fishing are tightened every year. This is bad for charter, tackle and other businesses; it keeps anglers off the water and it threatens the U.S.’s long-standing fishing heritage.

It’s clear that current fishing rules aren’t working.  EDF believes that collaboration between conservationists, fishermen, and managers is the best way to find a new management approach that works to protect fish – so that they’re more plentiful in the future – and put fishermen back on the water. If things don’t change, the federal government will continue to impose more rules, such as widespread closures.

Last week EDF hosted a collaborative workshop with for-hire (charter) fishermen from across the country to understand how their fishery management can be improved in order to truly recover popular fisheries.  Understanding if catch shares could work for for-hire fisheries was an important part of this discussion.  This workshop is one among many in which EDF has reached out to fishermen to better understand their concerns and discuss potential solutions that work to improve fishermen’s access and catches as well as recover fish populations.  Sportsmen already carry a well-known conservation ethic, which will help guide future progress.

Future access for responsible recreational fishing is threatened due to flawed federal management practices and a “business as usual” approach will only accelerate this trend. We can and should advance innovative reforms that build off the existing conservation ethic of sustainability through stewardship that our nation’s sportsmen embody. It all begins by starting the conversation.

Posted in Catch Shares, Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic | Also tagged , , , | Comments closed

Fishery Research Accelerated by Oil Spill

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz0VZEjXztM 

EDF staff recently had the privilege to participate in a university-fishing industry research expedition conducted by graduate students from the University of West Florida, on Captain Gary Jarvis’ boat, the Back Down 2, in Destin, Florida.

Underwater surveys explored reef fish populations and their habitat. They were originally scheduled throughout summer, but have been sped-up to serve as baseline samples in case the oil spill spreads as far as Alabama and Florida. These may be particularly important given this weekend's news that large plumes of oil have been found at deep depths offshore.

The researchers have several objectives including exploring fish population structure and habitat and examining fish tissue and stomach contents. Their methods include use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle to view the underwater environment to identify, measure and count fish. The researchers were also studying how varyingly skilled anglers catch fish on different sizes of circle hooks.

Cooperative research has many benefits

Cooperative research trips like this one are good for science and fishing businesses. UWF researchers chartered boats out of ports in Alabama and Pensacola in the week prior, and have scheduled several additional trips with Captain Jarvis and others.  The research rapidly provides much needed data on the health of fish stocks, and provides an opportunity to help charter businesses struggling with lost business from the oil spill.

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Oil Spill Exposes the Flaws of Gulf Recreational Fishing Management

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bni8RT6HgqU

As a massive oil spill and its underwater plumes continue to threaten fisheries in parts of the Gulf, charter captains are in an immediate pinch: their prized red snapper season is about to open on June 1 for just 53 days, but clients are foregoing fishing trips because they are worried about whether it is safe to visit the coast and fish in the Gulf during the oil spill. Offshore fishing outside the closed spill area remains good, and fishing captains are ready to accommodate customers.

But, Captain Gary Jarvis of Destin, Florida, points to an unexpected impact:  “This oil spill exposes the failure of Gulf recreational fisheries management.” 

With so many cancelled trips, and a short government-set red snapper season, charter fishermen are looking for ways to stay afloat. While traveling the Gulf Coast, I heard a lot of ideas for moving around or extending the 53 day red snapper season.

Click here to learn more about the latest oil spill-related fishing closures in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We need a new way to manage our fishery that gives us the flexibility to deal with these kinds of disasters and run stable businesses,” Jarvis said.

Thankfully, they don’t have to look far for a working model.

“In addition to my charter business, I have a small commercial fishing business,” Jarvis explained. “The commercial side of my business is doing fine. For now, I’m not worried about it because the fishery is managed smartly.”

Gulf commercial red snapper fishermen currently fish under a system called "individual fishing quotas" that allows them to harvest a portion of fish throughout the year when it makes most sense for their business, instead of during a set season.  In exchange for this flexibility, each fishermen is held accountable for his harvest.

"Some form of catch share suitable for the for-hire industry needs to be looked into to see if we can be managed with the flexibility needed to stay profitable and keep the public access open for recreational fisheries," Jarvis said.

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