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Catch share proponents attack recreational angling
Lawsuit seeks to restrict Gulf recreational red snapper anglers
 

WASHINGTON DC (7-11-13) – In a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., 29 commercial fishermen, seafood processors and trade groups closely associated with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), are seeking to further restrict angling for red snapper. The lawsuit challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service’s policy of managing recreational fishermen with seasons, size limits and bag limits.

“After the shortest recreational seasons in history, it appears that the goal of EDF is to ultimately keep the fishing public off the water as much as possible and by any means necessary, including litigation,” Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “A lawsuit filed by an elite group of snapper barons to protect their financial interests and further restrict recreational participation is probably the last thing we need along the Gulf Coast right now.”

The Environmental Defense Fund has long promoted the concept of catch shares for the commercial industry, which gives businesses a share of the harvest to manage as its own. Catch shares were originally touted to reduce overcapacity and bycatch in the commercial sector, but in the Gulf snapper fishery the program has created a class of “snapper barons” that have bought out smaller operations and now lease their shares back to other fishers. Many no longer actually fish for red snapper and are instead profiting from the lease and sale of a public natural resource that they obtained originally for free. From a high of around 1,800 commercial license holders, currently about 350 people, including many of the plaintiffs listed on the current lawsuit, now claim they own 51 percent of the entire harvest of Gulf red snapper.

“Seasons, size limits and bag limits have been used for decades with great success by the states in both marine and freshwater fisheries to manage recreational angling. Those tools work,” said Brewer. “What doesn’t work is taking a federal system that is geared almost exclusively to manage commercial fisheries to the pound and trying to apply those same standards to recreational angling. That is the recipe for chaos, and it leads to ridiculous diversions like this lawsuit.”

In contrast to the conditions described in the lawsuit, a red snapper benchmark stock assessment released just a few weeks ago paints a glowing picture of the recovery of Gulf red snapper. In fact, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meets next week in New Orleans to discuss lengthening the recreational season in 2013 because the assessment allows so much increased harvest.

“This lawsuit is not about conserving the stock or rebuilding a fishery or preserving access for the public to a public resource – it’s about a large environmental organization preserving a flawed catch share system for a few commercial entities and greatly restricting Gulf recreational angling, which is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people,” said Brewer. “There is far more to managing a fishery than counting, weighing and selling every dead fish for profit. We cannot allow successful management of our nation’s wild natural resources to be defined in these terms or be dictated to by deep-pocketed environmental groups.”

Over the past several years, Gulf Coast governors, Congressmen and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus have voiced concern and opposition to privatizing wildlife resources and limiting public access to public resources through catch share programs. In 2009, four Gulf governors wrote to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce stating that, “We are concerned that in the desire to adopt and implement catch share systems NOAA has forgotten its most fundamental responsibility under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act—to maximize the net economic value from the use of a public resource. Recreational fishing is an important activity in all of our states, and one that we would like to see continue to grow as a healthy activity for the public. However, we are concerned that NOAA policies could frustrate our ability to do that.”

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Anglers applaud legislation to let states manage Gulf red snapper

Gulf Senators file Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act of 2013

WASHINGTON DC (6-13-2013) – Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) filed legislation today that seeks to transfer responsibility for the management of Gulf red snapper to the Gulf states. The legislation (S.1161) comes two months after the governors of four Gulf states released a joint letter to the leadership of the U.S. House and Senate stating that federal management of Gulf red snapper is “irretrievably broken,” and calling for a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management.

“The red snapper fishery is tremendously complicated and has lurched from crisis to crisis under federal management with no end in sight,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of the National Government Relations Committee for Coastal Conservation Association. “We commend Sen. Landrieu for taking the lead to work through the complexity of this issue. She invested a great deal of time to craft a balanced, workable solution that allows the Gulf States to develop a new management approach.”

Federal management of red snapper reached a new low in 2013 when the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council announced the shortest season ever, even though the snapper population is booming. In response, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi announced various actions to join Texas’ long-standing rejection of federal regulations in state waters, prompting federal authorities to implement punitive measures for those states. Using an emergency rule process, the National Marine Fisheries Service reduced the recreational season to nine days off Louisiana and 12 days off Texas. Both states sued and a federal court overturned the action. The recreational season is now set at 28 days Gulf-wide.

“The reality is that federal fisheries management has a credibility problem. Red snapper has been under federal management for decades and our season this year is 28 days. No one should be satisfied with these results,” said Brewer. “We are grateful that Sen. Landrieu, Sen. Wicker and the Gulf governors heard the concerns of their citizens and pledged to find a better way.”

The Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act (S.1161) would establish a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management in which the states would fully comply with a management plan approved and adopted by the Gulf States Marines Fisheries Commission with minimal oversight from the federal government. The partnership would be similar to how striped bass are managed on the East Coast through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

“State-based fishery management has proven to be far more effective, and has engineered some of the greatest marine conservation victories in the country,” said Brewer. “We have faith in the states to be philosophically capable of not only conserving and managing robust fisheries, but also providing greater access to those resources for their citizens.”

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A unique opportunity for Gulf red snapper

New stock assessment a chance for Gulf Council to fix mistakes of the past

HOUSTON (6-12-2013) - In a letter to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Coastal Conservation Association cites the new red snapper stock assessment as an opportunity for federal managers to fix the mistakes of the recent past by allocating the entire available increase in red snapper annual catch limits to the recreational sector.

“Though this action will not account for the harm that federal mismanagement of the red snapper resource has imposed on anglers across the Gulf, it will begin to repair the damage and begins to recognize the needs and potential of the recreational sector,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee.

While the shortest recreational red snapper seasons on record have cost jobs and revenue for Gulf Coast economies, the commercial sector has thrived under its catch share program in which a handful of businesses own the right to harvest 51 percent of the annual quota of red snapper in the Gulf. The greatly expanded catch limits that have been proposed present a unique opportunity for the Gulf Council to also address the outdated allocation of red snapper, which was last set in the mid-1980s. A report by Gentner Consulting Group that looked at the increase in potential economic value and total sales from allocating 75 and 100 percent of the increases available makes an overwhelming case for the recreational sector.

“The Council has shown little willingness to address reallocation of this or any fishery for a variety of reasons, but primarily because reallocating usually means one side wins and the other loses. Allocating increases in annual catch limits (ACL) avoids that scenario,” said Brewer. “In this case, the commercial sector, which is operating under a catch share system that has dramatically decreased the number of participants in the fishery, is not impacted while the recreational sector, which has increased significantly in size and economic significance since the fishery was allocated in the mid-1980s, is given the resources to fulfill its role as an economic engine for the Gulf states in 2013 and beyond.”

The Gulf Council’s Science and Statistical Committee has endorsed an annual catch limit (ACL) of 13.5 million pounds of red snapper for 2013, an 11.9 million pound ACL for 2014 and a 10.6 million pound ACL for 2015. However, CCA is advocating that the Council average the ACL at 12 million pounds for the next three years to avoid the “yo-yo” regulations that have characterized the fishery in the recent past.

“The track record speaks for itself – we don’t believe the federal government has the ability to manage this fishery with any degree of accuracy or reliability. Averaging the increase to 12 million pounds over the next three years presents the best opportunity for stability in this fishery for the first time in a very long time,” said Brewer. “Ironically, the recreational sector has been criticized repeatedly and vigorously for not being ‘accountable.’ The lack of accountability seems to lie with the federal management regime that has forced the most severely limited fishing seasons ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico that we now see were largely not based on good science.”

The new assessment shows the significant increases are the result of fishing mortality rates that have averaged about 56 percent of what would have been a sustainable rate consistent with the rebuilding plan over the past six years.

“The federal management methods of the past – infrequent and inadequate monitoring of stock health and efforts to count every fish caught recreationally to produce an undependable harvest estimate in pounds – have been shown to be unworkable and grossly inaccurate,” said Brewer. “There is no indication that federal management is willing or able to do anything different, which is one of the reasons CCA supports moving management responsibility of red snapper to the individual states as a way to ultimately correct a management process gone awry. Combined with the efficiency and efficacy of state management, this increased allowance for the recreational sector should begin to repair the damage created by past mismanagement of this resource.”

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