Federal insistence on catch shares for headboats outrages anglers
NOAA ignores overwhelming opposition, proceeds with controversial program
In spite of opposition from governors, Congress and the vast majority of recreational anglers, NOAA Fisheries has unveiled a proposal for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to take red snapper from the private boat angling sector and give them away in a catch share program. This latest affront to anglers is outlined as an item on the Gulf Council’s June agenda calling for a closed-door session to appoint an advisory panel to make recommendations on a new headboat Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program.
“It is infuriating that NOAA Fisheries is disregarding the very clear messages that have been delivered on catch shares and their impact on recreational anglers,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “Four Gulf state governors signed a letter in 2009 warning about the negative impacts of catch shares on recreational angling. The Jones Amendment barring any NOAA funds from being used to implement new catch share programs was approved by Congress just a few weeks ago. Yet, somehow, NOAA Fisheries believes it is OK to proceed with a closed-door session to figure out how to do a new catch share program. This is an agency that seems almost completely disconnected.”
Catch share systems bestow a percentage of a public fishery resource to a select group of fishermen to harvest. The commercial entities pay nothing back to the public for this right to harvest a public resource and Coastal Conservation Association has contended that these programs ignore the participation and beneficial economic impacts of recreational fishing. According to a presentation by NOAA Fisheries to the Gulf Council in April 2011, splitting the recreational sector and implementing a catch share program for charter/for-hire boats could shorten the private boat recreational red snapper season by as much as 20 percent. CCA is opposed to sector separation and filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2009 over the Gulf grouper catch share program in a case that continues to make its way through federal district court.
“NOAA has funded economic studies that show the vast majority of the value of Gulf reef fish fisheries is in the private recreational boat sector,” said Brewer. “Why would they insist on going down a path that discourages the most valuable part of this fishery? When you combine the public outcry with the economic data, it appears that NOAA Fisheries is intent on doing the wrong things to manage this fishery. It defies logic and common sense.”
In response to the closed-door session to appoint an IFQ advisory panel, Gulf Council member Ed Sapp has requested clarification from NOAA Counsel on the Jones Amendment that prohibits NOAA from expending funds to implement new catch share programs.
“I’ve already received numerous phone calls from fishermen who believe NOAA and the Gulf Council are operating out of line,” he said. “I feel that it is vitally important that we have these public discussions before we proceed with any new catch share related issues.”