Selected tags: Red Snapper

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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I’ll Have the Gulf Red Snapper, Please

Fresh Red Snapper

Gulf Red Snapper

[This was originally posted in National Geographic's Ocean Views Blog]

I’m thrilled to report that Gulf of Mexico red snapper got a little less “red” today. That’s because our partners at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program – the most well-known sustainable seafood program in the United States – announced that they’ve removed the commercial fishery for Gulf of Mexico red snapper from their ‘Avoid’ list and awarded them a new ‘Good Alternative’ rating.

While there are still improvements to be made in this fishery, let’s take a minute to appreciate how much progress has been made in the last few years. Gulf of Mexico red snapper used to be a poster child for unsafe, wasteful fishing. In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s the fishery was ruled by derby seasons where fishermen raced to catch as much fish as possible a few days every month. This had tremendous consequences for both fish and fishermen, as quality and profitability suffered and the red snapper population dwindled.

Fortunately, fishermen, managers and conservationists finally recognized the severity of the problem and decided to get the fishery back on track. In 2007, an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program, coupled with a scientifically set catch limit, was implemented that put Gulf red snapper on the road to recovery. Since then, rebuilding red snapper populations have supported a 70% increase in fishing quotas, waste of marketable fish has declined by about 50%, and fishermen earn 33% more per pound of fish landed. Commercial fishing seasons now last the full year, and the sector demonstrates strong compliance with its catch limit. These same fishermen even pioneered an innovative new traceability program after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that tracks every single fish back to the boat that caught it.

Unfortunately the recreational portion of the fishery (which shares the Gulf red snapper quota about evenly with commercial fishermen) remains saddled with outdated management that leads to blown catch limits year after year. That’s not because recreational fishermen aren’t responsible or don’t care about sustainability. It’s that the recreational management program is utterly failing. The system punishes everyone because it is based on antiquated rules and poor monitoring. To make sure recovery doesn’t backslide, new technologies for faster and better data collection, more accurate fish counting and incentives for conservation are badly needed.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the body charged with managing the fishery, has many different proposals in front of them to solve the problems facing the recreational fishery.  Some of them show promise and some of them could very well make things worse. In the coming months they will be making some important decisions that will impact everyone that depends on the red snapper fishery.  The bottom line is that recreational fishermen need a solution that can work for them on the water while providing the necessary incentives and accountability to ensure long-term sustainability for the fishery – so that being on the “red list” will remain a distant memory.

Join me in celebrating the fact that the sustainability stigma is no longer affixed to the Gulf commercial red snapper fishery. Not only does today’s news acknowledge the fishery’s transition to better management; it means that conservation-minded commercial Gulf red snapper fishermen now have access to better market opportunities through major buyers that have made commitments to sustainable seafood. So the next time you see this delicious fish in the market or on a menu, enjoy it with the knowledge that you’re making a good choice for both the ocean and the small family-owned fishing businesses that rely on it.

For more fish musings, please follow me on Twitter @hawaiifitz

Tim Fitzgerald is a marine scientist and senior policy specialist with Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program. Tim directs EDF’s sustainable seafood program, and specializes in the intersection of environmental sustainability and public health. He is also a senior member of EDF’s National Policy team, advocating for more sustainable federal fisheries management policies.

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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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‘Fish on Fridays’: Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper, a tasty sustainability success story

Gulf Wild Red Snapper

Gulf Wild tagged Red Snapper. GulfWild allows the consumer to trace their fish back to the boat and captain who caught it

Welcome to a blog series on sustainable, locally sourced seafood for Lent! This week, we are featuring Gulf of Mexico red snapper which is managed under the Gulf of Mexico Commercial Red Snapper IFQ program. We are also presenting a delicious recipe for snapper tacos from Chef Chris, the head chef at Yaga’s in Galveston.

Meet a Fisherman: Bubba Cochrane

Bubba Cochrane is a commercial fisherman and business owner in Galveston, TX. He began his career as a deck hand and saved enough to purchase a permit and boat of his own. His business is doing well now, but he remembers when red snapper were on the brink of collapse. At that time, he was restricted to fishing in just the first 10-15 days of each month, in a derby-style competition in which everyone got on the water at the same time and tried to catch as many fish as possible.

He told National Geographic, “A derby is really stressful – you’re worried about the weather or if you get sick or even hurt,” he said. “And it means you miss a lot of birthdays and holidays with your family, because when fishing is open you’d better be on the water.”

Cochrane was skeptical of the IFQ program until he went to a workshop and learned he could buy or lease additional quota if he didn’t have enough. Now, his business is doing well and he hopes that one day, his son will follow in his footsteps. “Catch shares taught me about stewardship. I know what sustainability means and I believe in it,” said Cochrane. “There’s a future for the fishery.”

 

The Gulf of Mexico Commercial Red Snapper IFQ program:

Gulf snapper are so popular that overfishing once threatened to devastate this species, reducing it to just 4% of its original population. Attempts to control the problem by shortening the fishing season year after year failed. Then in 2007, fishermen voted to introduce an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ), a type of catch share, which put this species on the road to recovery. Since 2008, the fishing season has been extended to year-round, fishing quotas have been steadily rising and revenues have gone up, allowing fishermen to once more make a good living without harming the stock.

Some have even found creative ways to use the fishery’s new sustainability to market their catch. Gulf Wild, a registered program of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance, allows consumers to track the fish they buy back to its supplier, so they can see who caught their snapper, what part of the Gulf it came from, the name of the ship’s captain, and even the port where it was landed. The program assures consumers that they are eating truly sustainable seafood. Check out mygulfwild.com for more information on how the program works and where to buy Gulf Wild fish.

 

Red Snapper:

Red snapper, with its firm texture and sweet, nutty flavor, is one of the most popular white fish on the market and can be found all over the world, though most are harvested in the Gulf of Mexico or Indonesia. We are advocating that you purchase the locally caught Gulf snapper, however, and support local fishermen like Bubba!

Care to cook some snapper? Try this recipe for fresh snapper tacos.

 

Chef Chris’ snapper tacos: 

Ingredients:

1/2 Gal sour cream
3 green onions, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 C capers
1 C white wine
1 lime, juiced
2 T mayonnaise
1 T black pepper
1 T salt
1 T blackening seasoning

Instructions:
Sauce: Combine above ingredients in a bowl & set aside.

2 8oz red snapper fillets, cut into 3oz strips
1 T salt
1 T pepper
1 T chili powder
1 T garlic powder

Combine seasonings and coat snapper with the mixture. Cover bottom of sauté pan with olive oil & cook fish until white and flaky.

Assemble tacos with corn tortillas, shredded cabbage, chopped cilantro, sautéed snapper, and prepared sauce. Layer two or three corn tortillas for stability.

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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.

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Catch Shares Save Fishermen and Fish

Bubba Cochrane with his Boat the Chelsea Ann

Bubba Cochrane. Photo by Mark Thein of GulfWild.

This is a re-post of a National Geographic Blog posted by Miguel Jorge of National Geographic's Ocean Initiative on November 20, 2012

Bubba Cochrane always knew he wanted to be a fisherman. So, despite concerns from his family, he began his career as a deck-hand and eventually saved enough to buy a permit and boat of his own. He’s 43 years old now and owns a commercial fishing business out of Galveston, Texas. Business is good – but he can easily remember what fishing used to be like.

“When I got started, fishing was a race: when the season opened we fished every day until we were notified that the quota was caught. That meant lots of fishing all at once, a glut of fish in the market, and bad prices when we got back to the docks,” said Bubba, reminiscing about his early days in the fishery.

Through the mid-2000s, the red snapper fishery was on the brink of collapse. Even with so few fish in the population and a short season, the fishing derbies meant that the price at the dock stayed low, hurting the profits of commercial fishermen. Fishery managers tried to address the price problem by breaking up the season into the first 15, then 10 days of each month. Fishermen would fish for 10 days, and then wait until the next month to go out again.

These sporadic openings were not the solution fishermen like Bubba wanted. “It’s hard to run your business in just the first 15 days of a month; a lot can get in the way. I tell people to imagine a gas station only being able to sell gas for the first ten days of each month or a contractor only being able to build houses in that short window.” Read More »

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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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NOAA Releases Gulf of Mexico 2010 Red Snapper IFQ Annual Report

Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper

Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service recently released the Gulf of Mexico 2010 Red Snapper Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Annual Report, and it provides a wealth of data and information collected during the fourth year of the IFQ program.  The report comes as the 5-year review of the IFQ is underway, and offers us a chance to use the latest data to evaluate the success of the program.

By all counts, the IFQ has been a success.  Back in 2006 when the Gulf Council was considering various management options in the red snapper fishery, fishermen had a short season each year, and had to go out even in dangerous conditions. The markets were flooded with fish for a short period of the year (and fishermen got low prices for their fish), and since the fishermen couldn't decide when, where, or how to fish, they had excessive bycatch of red snapper and everything else.  And to top it all off, they ended up going over quota anyway.

Then in 2007, the IFQ brought in a new way of doing things.  After getting approved overwhelmingly by local fishermen in not one but two referendums, the IFQ brought flexibility and stability to the fishing industry.  Fishing days increased from an average of 77 days before catch shares to 365 days a year.  Catch shares improved the stability of fishing employment; they allowed vessel owners the opportunity to provide full time jobs to qualified captains and deckhands, without the variability that results from short seasons.   In contrast, recreational fishermen only had 53 days to fish for red snapper (not including lost days due to the oil spill) under traditional management in 2010, and only 48 days in 2011. Read More »

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