Fishermen, NGOs oppose Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery grab

Several commercial fishing groups and NGOs are up in arms over a new proposal to move Gulf of Mexico red snapper management away from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) to the control of the five states bordering the Gulf.

Five state organizations — Texas Parks & Wildlife, Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources-Marine Resources Division — proposed in mid-March that they should coordinate red snapper fishery management through a new, independent body called the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority (GSRSMA).

The new plan would allow each state to use “flexible management approaches to manage red snapper to meet local needs as well as Gulf-wide conservation goals,” according to the proposal. While legislation supporting the proposal has not yet been introduced in Congress, it is expected to be soon.

Several fishing organizations, as well as restaurants and others, are urging Congress not to switch authority from NOAA and the Gulf Council to the five states.

“There’s a precedent here that people in the seafood industry don’t want to see set. If you can do this for red snapper, what’s to say that you can’t do this for other popular species?” Tim Fitzgerald, senior manager for seafood market strategy at Environmental Defense Fund, told SeafoodSource. “The management of the recreational [red snapper] fishery is what needs improving…but this proposal is not the way to do it. It wants control of all snapper fishing, and will probably make things much worse.”

The proposal dismantles the commercial and charter fishery improvement work that has already been accomplished, said Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Gulf Seafood Institute.

“We worked very hard to get the harvesting component in place, and the fishery has grown. We have not overharvested at all,” Pearce said. “The harvesters and the bulk of charter boats don’t want it to happen. All of the federally licensed vessels I know of don’t want it to happen.”

“There is now no question in our minds that our state directors do not represent the best interests of commercial fishermen,” said Buddy Guindon, executive director of the Galveston, Texas-based Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance, in a statement.

The groups are concerned about the proposal for several reasons; most notably, the individual fishing quota system (IFQ) would stay in place for three years, and then the GSRSMA could choose to eliminate it.

“This so-called plan is going to eliminate the commercial IFQ that has been working well for more than half a decade,” said fishermen KP Burnett of Galveston. “It’s going to destroy my business as well as the hundreds of other red snapper businesses in the Gulf of Mexico that rely on a stable IFQ program.”

“A lot of the groups that support the plan have said before they would like snapper to be only recreational. After three years, they could begin the process of dismantling the commercial program and transiting more of the catch and quota into recreational fishing,” Fitzgerald added.

The current management plan is working and should not be altered, according to GSI, EDF and other groups. “We have worked very closely with the commercial fishery to get red snapper under a better management plan. Since 2007, the red snapper fishery has tripled and the fishing quota has doubled,” Fitzgerald said.

Another point of contention with the proposal is that representatives from the five states met in a private, “off-the-books” meeting to develop the plan.

“We were taken totally by surprise. That speaks to the nature of this proposal...that it was meant to keep a lot of stakeholders in the dark. There was no consultation with the commercial industry at all,” Fitzgerald said.


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