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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
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. Read More
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. Read More
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
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
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.