Selected tags: red snapper IFQ

New Report: Gulf Red Snapper Catch Share Meeting Objectives

The Gulf of Mexico red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ) program – one type of catch share – is again earning high marks for its conservation and economic benefits.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has published three annual updates of the program, with the latest concluding that the red snapper IFQ is meeting its main objectives. A recent stock assessment also concluded that long-standing “overfishing” of red snapper is finally ending.

Tangible Conservation, Economic Progress

  • Commercial overfishing is reversed and catch limits are climbing.
    After recent deep cuts in catch, commercial fishermen were rewarded this year with a more than 30 percent increase in catch in response to the positive stock assessment results and effective management.
  • Far fewer dead fish are thrown overboard.  
    Scientific analyses conclude that 70 percent fewer fish are being thrown overboard under IFQs across the Gulf. The latest report highlights that in Texas and Louisiana, which accounted for over half of the ’09 landings, fishermen discarded just one fish for every 15 they kept.  This is a huge improvement over pre-IFQ management when, gulf-wide, fishermen threw back about one fish for every one kept.
  • Fishermen are leaving more fish in the water to reproduce.
    Not only are fewer fish thrown overboard, fishermen have left about three percent of their quota in the water for the past three years.
  • Businesses have an opportunity to turn a profit. 
    With year-round fishing and stability, fishermen bring high quality fish to the dock when consumer demand is high. Fishermen now have flexibility to tailor the catch to market needs and organize fishing trips to minimize costs.  Fishermen say their costs have dropped by 50 percent or more and data show they are earning 25 percent more for their fish at the dock.
  • The value of the fishery is rising. 
    The rising value of the privilege to catch red snapper represents growing benefits to Gulf communities and reflects optimism for a healthy fishery, stable management, and a commitment to conservation.  

Opportunities for Improvement in the 5-year Review

With 2011 around the corner, a milestone for IFQ program is approaching: The start of a 5-year mandatory performance evaluation.

All federal catch share programs are reviewed at the 5-year point to evaluate progress toward goals and identify needed improvements. This is also an opportunity highlight the region’s most significant management successes – and national model – and to fine-tune the plan and ensure on-going benefits to the fishery, industry and communities.

One thing is clear going into the review: the IFQ program is working and should be continued. Additionally, there are two key areas in which the program can be improved:

  • Continue to improve enforcement and monitoring
    • Ensure standardized, accurate reporting of ex-vessel prices by fish dealers.  This is important in part for collection of cost recovery fees.
    • Improve the online IFQ reporting system so that it reconciles with other landing records data.
    • Ensure compliance with the six percent cap on holding IFQ shares.
  • Reduce red snapper discarding even more
    • Eliminate the minimum size limit to reduce size-related discards.
    • Better integrate eastern Gulf fishermen into the IFQ program (This region received little initial allocation of shares because red snapper had been fished out of the area until recently).
    • Create a full-retention fishery where all fish caught are counted toward each fisherman’s quota, and tracked by camera, to eliminate all waste that lessen the value and recovery of the fishery.

A Successful Model for Struggling Fisheries

The red snapper IFQ has already served as a model for Gulf commercial fishermen who voted to add 20 grouper and tilefish species into the IFQ program in 2010. Conservation and economic benefits will further improve if all commercial reef fish are incorporated into the program.

Regulators and commercial fishermen who target highly migratory species, like sharks, are also considering how catch shares might help them improve fishing, reduce wasteful discards, and boost profits.  Finally, catch shares could also be applied to struggling Gulf charter operators to give these fishermen an opportunity to plan their businesses and far better meet the needs of their angler clients.

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A Lifeline for Gulf Fishermen: Catch Shares Cushion Blow for Commercial Snapper Fleet in Wake of BP Oil Disaster

At the time of the BP oil disaster, the once-failing Gulf commercial red snapper fishery was beginning to rebound, in large part due to a catch shares program called individual fishing quotas introduced in 2007.  Before catch shares, fishermen competed against each other in a dangerous race-to-fish before the short seasons ended. Now, fishermen are assigned a percentage of an annual sustainable catch and have a year round season. Individuals decide when to fish their secure amount, and can trade their allotments with other boats, providing incentives and accountability to save fish and the marine environment.

The system works for fishermen and fish. Before, regulations forced fishermen to throw out millions of fish, wasted and dying. Fish were caught during short seasons and were sold in the market all at once, pushing down quality and fishermen's earnings. Now, far fewer fish are wasted, fishing costs are dramatically lower, and fishing trips are timed when seafood demand is high.  In short, opportunities for a healthy Gulf and fishing industry are possible again.

While all Gulf fishing businesses have been harmed, catch shares have cushioned the blow for fishermen during the BP oil disaster in the following ways, as non-catch share fishermen – like red snapper charter fishermen – are stuck dealing with another huge blow to their industry.

  • Tangible assets to make loss recovery claims: Catch shares have a transparent market price, which may help fishermen calculate defensible claims for the loss of value of their business and assets from the oil disaster. In contrast, fishermen under old rules may find it difficult to prove the expected value of this year's and future catches. This case is likely the first in which disaster claims can be based on catch shares.
  • Ability to trade fish now to make ends meet: Catch share fishermen in areas closed by the spill can trade their shares to others in the open Gulf waters, giving them the means to survive in the short term. In contrast, fishermen under old rules are stuck at the docks with nothing to trade.
  • Security to wait and fish later in the year: Catch share fishermen have a year round seasons and secure amount of fish, allowing them to save their fish for later in the year. For those under old rules, like charter fishermen, important fishing seasons are often concentrated during summer months, so fishermen that have been closed in by oil from Louisiana to Alabama have missed out on fishing for some prized fish and substantial fishing income.  (Regulators may re-open some fisheries to alleviate hardship caused by the oil disaster.)

Overall, catch shares help make fishermen more resilient to man- made disasters like the BP oil disaster and natural disasters like hurricanes.

Now more than ever, we need to improve fishery resiliency, reduce waste and make every fish count — for the environment and for fishermen. Catch shares are the best way to make this happen.

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New NOAA policy an economic and conservation boost for Gulf fisheries

Red snapper on scaleThe 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 »

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"Dock Talk" Shows that Books Can Only Take You So Far

Snapper Off-load in Destin, FLAt a recent meeting in Destin, FL, where members of our Gulf and South Atlantic teams met to discuss collaborative projects, I had the opportunity to see a commercial boat offloading its catch after a three day fishing trip. What an experience! 

As multitudes of red snapper, vermilion snapper, and grey triggerfish were loaded off the boat and put on ice, I took the opportunity to meet with the Captain and crew and ask questions.  I learned what species are caught together, and therefore which species probably share the same habitat. 

The Captain told me about the places he goes fishing, what depths he fishes, what gear he uses, and how far out he goes.  It was interesting to learn that many of the species he co-catches in the Gulf are same species that are caught together in the South Atlantic.  It reaffirmed for me, from a shared habitat and ecosystem point of view, that collaboration between the South Atlantic and Gulf teams is beneficial and even critical.

The Captain explained that he is pleased with the recent red snapper catch share program because he doesn’t have to go as far to catch fish since the red snapper stock seems to have expanded. He also doesn’t have to throw nearly as many fish back overboard.  His job is more profitable and takes less time.  Who wouldn’t be happy with that?

Additionally, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist was on hand taking otolith (ear bone) samples from fish to take back to the agency’s lab.  This random sampling of otoliths was taken in order to determine the ages of the fish that were caught.  Under a microscope, an otolith has rings on it, like a tree trunk, that can be counted to age the fish.  She even showed me how to take an otolith sample!

Overall, I learned a valuable lesson. As a fisheries scientist, it is imperative to get out in the field and ask fishermen questions.  As I think about how a catch share program would work for the snapper grouper fishery in the South Atlantic, it is important for me to understand the biological aspects of fish that are caught together and share the same habitat. These aspects must be factored into a successful catch share program. 

Fishermen are good at what they do and have insightful knowledge into the oceans they depend upon to make a living. This type of information and insight can’t be learned in a book, sometimes you just have to get out on the docks.

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Catch Shares Success as Big as Texas

red snapper in bucketsWhen the largest paper in Texas (.42 million readers) puts catch shares on its front page, you know it’s worth talking about. This Saturday the Houston Chronicle wrote an article titled “Catch and Relief: A new share system for fishing red snapper in the Gulf appears to benefit anglers, as well as the species suffering from overfishing.”

The story features commercial fisherman Buddy Guindon, who also owns Katie’s Seafood in Galveston, TX. He owns quota in the Gulf of Mexico’s commercial red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ) program, a type of catch share.

An interesting excerpt:

"At first, the concept of individual shares so worried Guindon that he sold one of his two seafood markets as a pre-emptive move. Two years later, Guindon said he is catch half the fish but making more money. The new system allows him to reduce expenses because his boats can take longer and more fuel-efficient trips while increasing revenue by fishing when the Gulf is safe and dockside prices are high."

Check out the full story.

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First-hand Gulf Snapper Education

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.

Read More »

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