Monthly Archives: August 2009

NOAA Approves Gulf of Mexico Grouper / Tilefish IFQ

gag grouperThis morning the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made one of the most significant decisions in the name of saving Gulf of Mexico fisheries, fishermen, and coastal fishing communities by approving a multi-species individual fishing quota (IFQ) program for Gulf of Mexico grouper and tilefish. The program will be implemented in January, creating one of the largest multi-species IFQ programs in federal waters of the continental U.S.

The grouper/tilefish IFQ will build on the successful record of the red snapper IFQ, which has already significantly contributed to the recovery of the stressed red snapper species. Together, the programs will offer even more conservation benefits than either program alone.

Fishermen are ecstatic and so are we. It has been a long process, but with support from fishermen (who voted in favor of the IFQ by more than 80%), managers (the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted in favor of the IFQ by more than 75%) and environmentalists, NOAA is implementing a strong conservation program that is welcomed by many.

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EDF’s Dan Whittle on Environmental Protection Collaboration with Cuba

Dan Whittle, Southeast Regional Director for EDF Oceans program.Dan Whittle, EDF’s Cuba Program Director, recently wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to their article on the collaboration between the U.S. and Cuba.  Dan explains how U.S./Cuba cooperation is greatly needed when it comes to not only dealing with weather conditions such as hurricanes, but also environmental protections for coral reefs and fish populations among other environmental concerns.

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Kemp’s Ridley Comeback (Part II)

Kemps ridley sea turtleEarlier this summer I reported on the revival of the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the smallest of all the sea turtles, which I’m happy to report has now had another record breaking nesting year! 197 nests have been spotted along the Texas coast and more could still be discovered, though August typically marks the end of the turtles’ nesting season. In 2001 fewer than ten turtles were found on the Texas Coast, but in part due to protections that government, industry and EDF and other conservation groups helped win for the turtles, this year marks the sixth year in a row of increased nestings.

A similar trend for this turtle has also been reported south of the border.  In the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, nestings back in 1985 numbered as few as 700 (down from 40,000).  Through Mexican efforts to protect the nesting sites, there are now upwards of 20,000 annually.

Check out a recent news story on how many interests came together to make this recovery a reality and stay tuned for next season!

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Statement from EDF on Fisherman Protest off Martha’s Vineyard

A small fleet of fishermen is expected to stage a protest today off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard directed at President Obama over a recent change in regulations for commercial groundfish fishermen.  The following statement is from Sally McGee, the New England Policy Director for EDF and a member of the New England Fishery Management Council, which recently voted 16-0 in favor of the new management approach for the groundfish fishery (Motion 21a from NEFMC meeting held in Portland, ME, June 25, 2009).

“Today’s demonstration comes at a tough time for fishermen in New England.  Many are anxious over a change in fishing policy that is coming after decades of declining fish stocks and complicated rules that have squeezed scores of fishermen out of business.  Once we are through this transition process, however, the decline of the groundfish fishery will have been halted, rules will be simpler, and fishermen will be making money once again.

“The new rules – called “catch shares” or “sectors” – will give groundfish fishermen a dedicated share of the overall catch.  Instead of being forced to fish under ever-increasingly restrictive rules, catch shares will give fishermen in New England flexibility to choose how they meet the scientifically-set catch limit.  Catch shares have a history of success in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as two groundfish sectors already on-the-water in New England.  Under catch shares, fish stocks recover and fishermen once again become profitable.

“The change to catch shares is coming after a lengthy and thorough public process.  In fact, the final decision was delayed a full year to allow more time for additional public input.  The three-year process showed broad and growing support for catch shares in New England. 

“The problems with the New England groundfish fishery are deep, severe and centuries in the making.  Catch shares will not turn this situation around overnight.  The alternatives are far worse however.  Without catch shares the fish stocks and the health of the ocean will only decline further.  Catch shares offers hope and a track record of success. ”

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New Red Snapper IFQ Report Raises Hope for Other Troubled Fisheries

Pam Baker, EDF Sr. Policy Advisor for the Gulf of Mexico region

No matter how many scientific studies emerge confirming the benefits of catch shares, you always have opponents who say catch shares may work in “theory,” but still have doubts about their real-life application.

However, it’s hard to refute on-the-ground, tangible results, like those shown down in the Gulf of Mexico.

This week the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released the 2008 annual report reviewing the progress of its Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper individual fishing quota program (IFQ), which is a type of catch share.

The report shows continued success for red snapper two years into the program, and provides additional support for implementing IFQs to rebuild other troubled fisheries.

The report’s conservation highlights include:

  • Overfishing is being reversed in the commercial fishery.
  • Fishermen have caught under less than allotment by 2.5-4.0 percent in the past two years.
  • Fishermen cut their ratio of wasted fish to fish taken to the docks by almost 70 percent.  (Before the IFQ, for every fish a fisherman kept, he threw one back dead. Now, fishermen only throw one back for every three to four that they keep.)

The report’s economic highlights include:

  • Long season closures and extreme market swings have been eliminated. 
  • With year-round fishing, fishermen bring high quality fish to the dock when consumer demand is high, helping their businesses remain profitable. 
  • The price fishermen pay for quota, the long-term privilege to catch red snapper, rose by 37 percent, reflecting optimism for a healthy fishery and a commitment to conservation.

With the conservation gains seen in the commercial red snapper fishery in just a few years, we are optimistic that rebuilding is getting underway and the payoff might be a rising catch limit in the near future. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is on the right track by considering IFQs and other catch share plans for many of its other commercial and sport fisheries that are in dire need of better management.

The NMFS report concludes that the commercial red snapper fishery is on the right track, and it identifies a few ways that it can be improved.  For example, the mislabeling of fish needs to be stopped, and better ways are needed to count dead fish that some vessels continue to throw overboard, especially off of the Florida peninsula coast.

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Occasional Series on Weird Seafood: Wreckfish

Wreckfish illustration SAFMC website
The restaurants of San Francisco and Charleston have one important thing in common: either place, you are likely to encounter a wonderfully flavorful and healthy fish choice on menus – wreckfish.

Wreckfish (Polyprion americanus) is a very widely distributed, deepwater fish found around canyons, escarpments and wrecks, as its name implies.  Juveniles associate with floating seaweed and debris, helping to distribute the animal around the world ocean as flotsam drifts.  Wreckfish may exceed six feet in length, and 200 pounds, with the oldest known individual aged at 81 years. 

Conservation is sorely lacking, with the exception of the U.S. South Atlantic region, where an innovative type of catch share called an “individual transferable quota” (ITQ) fishery management system was developed in 1991 and implemented in 1992.  ITQs allocate percentages of a scientifically-appropriate catch limit to fishermen, who may then sell or trade them within socially acceptable limits.  The wreckfish of the Pacific and Indian Oceans is a close relative; the only management system for that fish is also an ITQ, in New Zealand.

Wreckfish photo from NOAA's websiteThe wreckfish ITQ in the South Atlantic region has been a great success, pleasing both fishermen and conservationists alike. The only criticism has been of an apparent “under harvest” while fishermen have fished for other species.  I don’t think I have to explain how notable that is in this day of constant excesses! The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) is currently reviewing this fishery, including the overall quota, and possible management for a newly developing “deep drop” recreational fishery.  I am impressed with the Council’s management to date of the wreckfish, and am looking forward to their future steps on catch shares.

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