Statement of Coastal Conservation Association on the Exempted Fishing Permit presented to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council April 2012
At the April 2012 meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in Corpus Christi, NOAA Fisheries brought an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) request to the Gulf Council for review. It was submitted by the Gulf Headboat Cooperative and outlined a pilot study whereby “selected headboats” in the Gulf of Mexico will examine the feasibility of an alternative rights-based management strategy (catch shares).
The proposal would allow these few headboats in the study to fish for red snapper and gag grouper, based on allocations given to them, outside the normal recreational fishing seasons. The group selected for the study includes nine headboat owners/captains who operate 13 different vessels. The Gulf Council voted 7-6 on April 19 to endorse this Exempted Fishing Permit.
Coastal Conservation Association rejects the validity of the EFP and questions the propriety of NOAA Fisheries allowing the proposal to be presented to the Council for consideration. By promoting the EFP, NOAA Fisheries has made a farce of every requirement contained in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act for the implementation of catch share programs. Catch share programs are not new and their methods of operation and feasibility in the commercial sector are well documented. The stated purpose of this EFP, to study the feasibility of an alternative rights-based management strategy (IFQs), is a poorly veiled excuse to avoid proper Council process and institute a highly contentious and unpopular catch share program in the recreational sector over the objections of the vast majority of stakeholders.
This incident is just the latest in a string of examples demonstrating how some groups in the environmental community are willing to disregard proper procedures, protocols and laws governing our public marine resources whenever it suits their purposes. By facilitating this proposal and presenting it to the Gulf Council, NOAA Fisheries is complicit in what appears to be an intentional circumvention of the Magnuson Stevens Act.
As a long-time participant in federal fisheries management in general and in this fishery in particular, Coastal Conservation Association urges NOAA to reject this proposal.