Coastal Conservation Association
Catch share programs have been promoted as a panacea to many fishery management challenges, but close scrutiny of these programs shows they create far more problems than they solve. Putting ownership of a wildlife resource into the hands of a private business for its own profit is a dramatic departure from the way this country has traditionally managed wildlife resources. Congressman Steve Southerland is right to question if this is a path the country should take. The end result of catch share programs is what we are seeing in the Gulf of Mexico today, with a very few, select commercial shareholders wielding a disproportionate level of power and enjoying a year-round red snapper season, while the public is left with just an 11-day season to pursue this abundant and popular fish.
Proponents of catch shares argue that the system presents the best way to manage marine resources. Left unsaid is that anyone who wants to enjoy that resource will have to buy it from a shareholder who paid nothing to own it in the first place. In the red snapper program, less than 400 commercial shareholders “own” more than 50 percent of all the snapper harvested in the Gulf of Mexico, and yet they don’t pay enough in administrative fees to even cover the cost to manage their own program. One of the few line items in the NOAA Fisheries budget that keeps increasing is the one to expand and implement catch share programs. Why should Americans pay to subsidize a program that locks them out of a resource for the explicit benefit of so few?
Plans under consideration by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council would expand catch shares to charter/for-hire operators, meaning they, too, would be given shares of the red snapper resource for free. Assuredly, those operators will then take that windfall and charge the angling public whatever they want to access “their” fish.
What kind of a fishery are we creating with this system for our grandkids, for our kids or even for us? The federal government is creating a situation in which the public is paying to give away our marine resources, and then forcing us to pay again and again to access those resources in the future.
Additionally, the red snapper catch share plan called for the development of mechanisms to potentially transfer quota from private shareholders back to the American public within five years of the program’s implementation. However, we are in year seven and there are not even serious discussions on how to do this. The commercial shareholders have become a very wealthy, influential group and they are unwilling to give up any of their fish.
Not one aspect of this program passes the smell test, even if we are talking about fish.
Conversely, the states have never felt it necessary to hand over ownership of redfish or speckled trout, for example, to achieve good management. Can anyone imagine how different our red drum fishery would look today if Texas had chosen to manage the way that the federal government does? Instead of fueling our coastal economies, those fish would be reserved forever in catch share programs so a few commercial operators could sell redfish sandwiches in New York and Chicago. And proponents would be defending that as the best way to manage them!
There are many problems with federal fisheries management and the primary one is that the feds have almost no idea how to manage recreational fisheries. Embracing flawed programs to give those marine resources away for someone else to manage for their own benefit is not the answer.
If you have a freight train running out of control sometimes the only solution is to cut the fuel line. Congressman Southerland should be commended for his efforts to keep management of our fisheries on the right track.