by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
Facing opposition on an amendment that would take a portion of the red snapper fishery from Gulf seafood providers for the exclusive use of recreational fishing, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) voted to defer further action on Amendment 28 until a vote has been taken on Red Snapper sector separation which will lay the groundwork for new management options for both the commercial and recreational sectors.
Citing the need for management changes in the recreational sector during its meeting held in Key West, the Council tabled further action on Amendment 28 until a vote is taken on Amendment 40, aimed at partitioning the recreational sector into private and for-hire components; an issue Gulf charter captains have lobbied.
“The Council made the right decision by deferring further action on red snapper reallocation until after they adequately address the needs of our charter boat community,” said Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) executive director Margaret Henderson, who was present for the vote. “Based on the thousands of comments received by the Council, consumers and the general public agree that we’ve got to find a solution to the red snapper issue that enhances sustainability for the fishery, the fishermen and consumers. GSI stands ready to find that common ground.”
5,643 Emails on Snapper Issue
According to Louisiana Gulf Council member and GSI president Harlon Pearce, the Council received 5,643 emails within the past 30 days. “More than 90 percent of those who emailed the council were not in favor of changing the current allocation in favor of giving more fish to the recreational sector,” he said.
Not everyone was happy with the Council’s decision. Louisiana Senator David Vitter, in a prepared release, questioned the Council’s decision to go against the recommendation of its own Socioeconomic Science and Statistical Committee which found changing the allocation in favor of the recreational sector would bring additional revenue into each of the Gulf States.
“The Carter Agar study by the Southeast Fishery Science Center was done at the request of the Gulf Council,” said Bob Gill, a member of the Gulf Council’s Science and Statistical Committee(SSC), and a GSI board member. “The study found reallocating a small amount of red snapper to the recreational sector would bring increased net benefits. However, this economic shift was valid for only a very small change. The Gulf Council’s Socio-economic SSC reviewed the report and suggested that a one percent shift was at the outer edge.”
Public Testimony Favored Status Quo
During public testimony held at the meeting, a majority of those addressing the council were not in favor of reallocating the fisheries current 51 commercial/49 recreational percentage split.
Prior to the meeting, the National Restaurant Association sent letters to all five state governors asking their support of their local restaurants in a quest to maintain uncompromised, year-round access to seafood fished in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
“I am very excited that the council is moving forward with the most important issue on their plate, which is to find some relief for the recreational fishery and its management,” said David Krebs, said GSI board member and president of Florida’s Ariel Seafood. “During my public testimony I made it clear that Amendment 28 should be thrown in the trash can, and that the Council should put its focus on Amendment 40.”
The Gulf recreational sector currently includes a private vessel component and a for-hire component. The for-hire component includes charter boats and head boats. Current recreational management measures such as season length, daily bag limits, and size limits are typically applied to the recreational sector as a whole, without making a distinction between the private and for-hire components.
Presented with a draft of the Amendment, the Council chose the following alternatives:
- Action 1 – Establishment of Private Angling and Federal For-hire Components – Preferred Alternative 2:
- Establish a red snapper federal for-hire component. The federal for-hire component would include all for-hire operators with a valid or renewable federal reef fish for-hire permit.
- Establish a private angling component that would include all other for-hire operators and private recreational anglers.
- Action 2 – Allocation of Recreational Red Snapper Quota between the Components of the Recreational Sector – Preferred Alternative 4:
- Allocate the recreational red snapper quota based on average landings between 1996 and 2012. Resulting federal for-hire and private angling allocations would be 47.1% and 52.9%, respectively.
- Action 3 – Recreational Season Closure Provision – Preferred Alternative 2:
- Establish separate red snapper season closure provisions for the federal for-hire and private angling components.
- Each season would close when its projected quota is caught.
The establishment of a third separate fishery would help stabilize the for-hire component, providing a basis for increased flexibility in future management of the recreational sector, and minimize the chance for any recreational quota overruns which could jeopardize the rebuilding of the red snapper stock.
Bold Action Needed
For Gulf charter captains reallocation is a false promise to recreational fishermen. “It is important to recognize charter boats as professional fishermen not tethered to the recreational sector as with the current status quo,” said Johnny Greene, an Orange Beach charter captain, GSI board member and Alabama Gulf Council representative. “As business owners, charter fishermen need the certainty and flexibility of a year round season. It is time to take bold steps, such as installing Vessel Monitoring Systems and exploring the possibilities of an Individual Fishing Quota program for charter boats.”
During their Florida Keys meeting, the council also approved a letter supporting reinstatement of a 2006 Magnuson Stevens reauthorization provision requiring governors to make appointments giving Regional Councils a balanced mixture of commercial, recreational and charter interests.
According to Henderson Gulf Council meetings are a top priority for GSI. “Understanding GSI’s bold mission, it’s critical for me to hit the ground running and this week’s Council meeting was no exception. As we’re busy crafting GSI’s positions on the issues, it’s imperative that we take time to sit down with representatives from the broader seafood community and learn first hand the challenges facing them back home. GSI is quickly rising to a position of speaking for the entire Gulf seafood community and that’s a responsibility I take very seriously,” she said.