Even Gulf commercial fishermen say catch share concept fails
KEY WEST, FL – Recreational anglers apparently are not the only ones who object to the use of catch share programs in the Gulf of Mexico. During the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting this week in Florida, commercial grouper fishermen pointed out serious flaws in the catch share concept that are forcing them to discard an estimated 700,000 to 1 million pounds of dead red snapper annually. Coastal Conservation Association is calling for an accelerated review of both the commercial red snapper and grouper catch share plans by the Gulf Council.
“A lot of the grouper guys say the concept is not working and they are throwing half their fish away. They can’t get shares to keep the red snapper they catch while they are fishing for grouper, and so they are asking for the commercial red snapper program to sunset and just go away,” said Dr. Russell Nelson, CCA’s Gulf Fisheries consultant. “CCA pointed out that this kind of waste was a likely result when the Council was discussing the grouper catch share program in 2009, but those concerns were ignored.”
According to public comments to the Gulf Council by Bob Spaeth of the Southern Offshore Fisheries Association, a survey of commercial grouper fishermen revealed that a majority felt they were worse off after their Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program went into effect. Furthermore, it appears that the commercial grouper sector may have caught the majority of its shares for the entire year already, meaning that very few grouper will be landed in last quarter of the year. That prompted a request from the commercial sector that they be allowed to catch some of next year’s quota this year.
“Again, this shows that catch share programs pose more problems than solutions,” said CCA’s Chester Brewer, chairman of the National Government Relations Committee. “The idea may be compelling on paper to some, but when you put it into practice and factor in human nature, all the economic models fall apart. These ideas are sold as one-size fits all solutions, but there are inherent, fundamental flaws that are unavoidable.”
As the debate flared over commercial catch share programs, the Gulf Council tried to sidestep controversy over the appointment of a Headboat IFQ Advisory Panel that was originally intended to explore separating headboats from the recreational sector and giving them their own shares of red snapper in yet another catch share program. In a thinly veiled attempt to deflect mounting criticism over the panel, the Council elected to rename it the Ad Hoc Headboat Advisory Panel and broaden its scope to examine all things important to the headboat industry, not just sector separation and catch shares.
“If commercial boats and recreational anglers don’t favor catch shares, it is hard to see why NOAA Fisheries continues to promote them. They don’t make economic sense or conservation sense,” said Nelson. “Unfortunately, there are financial incentives for Councils to implement catch share programs and so these concepts keep hanging around even though very few people are in favor of them.”
CCA has encouraged members and all recreational anglers to contact the Gulf Council at firstname.lastname@example.org to urge the rejection of sector separation and catch shares in recreational fisheries.