Gulf Council Shifts Red Snapper Quota From Commercial to Recreational Sector

by / Newsroom Ink on August 25, 2015
Fishermen

In a highly contested vote, the Gulf Council voted to remove snapper quota from the commercial fishery while allocating additional quota to the recreational sector. Photo: Galveston Sea Ventures

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor and Gulf Council Staff, with contributions from Gulf organizations press releases

Debate over regional management of the Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper fishery moved from Washington, D.C. to the Crescent City as the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met for the fourth time this year. In a highly contested vote, the Council voted to remove snapper quota from the commercial fishery while allocating additional quota to the recreational sector.

The Council’s action on Reef Fish Amendment 28 would allocate the increase in allowable harvest due to recalibration of Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) catch estimates to the recreational sector. The resulting allocation for 2016 – 2017 would be 48.5% commercial and 51.5% recreational.

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“Gulf Council members friendly to the commercial coalition were able to defeat Alternative 9, the effort to take approximately 1.2 million pounds of red snapper from the commercial sector, but were unable to stop the motion to reallocate 380,000 pounds of our commercial quota,” said Gulf Seafood Institute Board President Harlon Pearce. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

For years, Amendment 28 has gone through numerous iterations as it has been under consideration by the Gulf Council. The current red snapper fishery is divided almost 50-50 between the commercial and recreational sectors. Some alternatives considered in Amendment 28 could have shifted millions of pounds of fish and done untold damage to commercial fishermen, the seafood supply chain, restaurants and grocery stores.

The Council’s final action will retain a portion of the commercial red snapper quota in 2016 to ensure that the IFQ quota intended for reallocation is not distributed among commercial fishermen before Amendment 28 is implemented.

“Gulf Council members friendly to the commercial coalition were able to defeat Alternative 9, the effort to take approximately 1.2 million pounds of red snapper from the commercial sector, but were unable to stop the motion to reallocate 380,000 pounds of our commercial quota,” said Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) Board President Harlon Pearce, owner of Harlon’s LA Fish in New Orleans. “Amendment 28 was passed with an allocation change of approximately a 2.5% shift in the recreational fishery’s favor, and is now being sent to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval.”

According to Pearce, this is a bad precedent to set. “We, of course, preferred to stop any forced reallocation”. When this fight started several years ago, the Gulf Council was trying to take millions of pounds for the recreational fishery, which could destabilize the commercial industry and do serious damage to the recovery of the species.

Tomney

“All we hear about is that federal recreational fishing seasons are getting shorter and shorter; but taking quota from commercial fishermen hurts our businesses and doesn’t actually help this problem,” said Steve Tomeny, charter and commercial fisherman from Port Fourchon. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

Spearheaded by Share the Gulf, a Gulf commercial snapper coalition comprised of restaurateurs, conservationists, seafood suppliers, commercial fishermen and consumers produced numerous op-eds and letters to the Governors, and attended highlevel meetings with elected officials and newspaper editorial boards. More than 70 testified in front of the Council, including influential Gulf Coast chefs.

“The vast majority of Americans do not own an offshore boat; they access the fishery through their favorite restaurants and grocery stores. This vote erodes their right to this shared American resource and hurts the businesses that provide it to them. Thankfully thousands of chefs, fishermen and seafood lovers made their voice heard or this could have been much worse,” said Stan Harris, CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association and a GSI member.

“All we hear about is that federal recreational fishing seasons are getting shorter and shorter; but taking quota from commercial fishermen hurts our businesses and doesn’t actually help this problem,” said Steve Tomeny, charter and commercial fisherman from Port Fourchon, LA and GSI member. “How is giving private anglers more quota going to extend their seasons? Just look at the last few years – their quota keeps going up and their seasons keep getting shorter. Any quota that they get is going to get used up by the states going even more noncompliant with federal rules.”

Poster Child

Gulf Red Snapper has become the poster child for the battle between recreational and commercial fisherman, as well as environmentalists. During the first session of the 114th Congress, Gulf Coast Senators and Representatives have pushed legislation allowing for state control of the fishery with a goal of providing longer seasons and larger limits for recreational and commercial fisherman.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) has introduced legislation that would transfer management of the red snapper fishery from the federal government to the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority (GSRSMA), a council comprised solely of the five Gulf State marine resource agency directors. The legislation would also extend state management to nine miles.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby has also included language extending state management boundaries in a FY 2016 appropriations bill headed to the floor.

Currently, recreational fishermen can catch as much red snapper as they want; retaining them is a different question. All three bills, as well as the Gulf Council’s Regional Management Plan, fail to address the ever-increasing fishing effort by private anglers; an issue, some would argue, that the States currently turn a blind eye toward.

Krebs

“Two real questions need to be addressed. What can the states or regional management do better if in charge? And how will state or regional management address effort restraints needed for future seasons to ensure a sustainable harvest?” asked GSI Board Member David Krebs, owner of Florida’s Ariel Seafood. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

“Two real questions need to be addressed. What can the states or regional management do better if in charge? And how will state or regional management address effort restraints needed for future seasons to ensure a sustainable harvest?” asked GSI Board Member David Krebs, owner of Florida’s Ariel Seafood. “In a sense, the states already have their own management plan as they are not compliant with federal regulations. The problem with that is that they are not even consistent with one another.”

According to Krebs, GSI and industry have been trying to get clarity on what state or regional management really adds to red snapper management. “While politicians have thumped their chest about how ineffective NOAA has been in managing the resource, it has magically grown to historical levels of allowable catch.”

“The real issue is and will always be effort restriction,” he said. “We have it in the commercial industry and in the federal charter-for-hire industry. To this date, season length and size limits are the only tools being used to regulate private anglers. In other words no state is restricting the amount of anglers that can participate in their red snapper seasonal openings. If every year more fishermen participate, more fish will be caught and the stock has potential for overruns. There will never be enough for this unbridled appetite.”

Rick Kraft, a Galveston charter-for-hire fisherman, worries about any changes in the current system, especially if states takeover of the management. “If the Gulf States take control of our snapper fishery, there won’t be any real control on the amount of snapper fished by the recreational sector,” he said.

Snapper has become the symbol of recreational fishermen’s frustration with federal management. They are frustrated by the apparent abundance of a fish they can’t catch.

Regional Management of Red Snapper

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“Magnuson is working for the fish but not working for the recreational sector, which continues to remain unaccountable for the number of fish they harvest,” said GSI’s Executive Director Margaret Henderson. Photo: GSI

During the New Orleans meeting, the Council continued discussions on Reef Fish Amendment 39, which would divide the recreational red snapper quota among the regions to allow for the creation of different regional management measures.

The Council changed its preferred alternative from Action 1 to Alternative 4, which would establish a regional management program whereby regions would develop management proposals and submit those proposals to a technical review committee. Proposals would then either go back to the region for revision or be forwarded to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for final review. Any region not participating or not satisfying the conservation equivalency requirements would be subject to the default federal regulations for red snapper.

According to a Gulf Council spokesperson, the Council’s regional management proposals would provide greater flexibility to the recreational fishery by allowing for the regional variation of management measures and by developing accountability measures for recreational overages to better account for biological, social, and economic differences among the regions in the Gulf.

Regional management would also allow for certain management measures to vary around the Gulf, enabling the states to develop recreational red snapper management measures most suited to their particular waters, yet red snapper would remain a federally managed species. The National Marine Fisheries Service would review and approve all state regulations.

Charter-For-Hire and Headboats

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“We want to continue to develop a program that will allow access to red snapper year around for the American non-boating public,” explained Captain Shane Cantrell, the Executive Director of the Charter Fisherman’s Association. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

The Council also reviewed draft options papers for Reef Fish Amendments 41 and 42. Amendment 41 explores the design and implementation of flexible measures for the management of red snapper by the charter for-hire fleet; and Amendment 42 explores the design and implementation of flexible measures for the management of reef fish for the headboat fleet.

“We want to continue to develop a program that will allow access to red snapper year around for the American non-boating public,” explained Captain Shane Cantrell, owner operator of Galveston Sea Ventures and the Executive Director of the Charter Fisherman’s Association. “With the successful rebuilding of the red snapper fishery and others in the Gulf, we want to ensure these fish remain on the menu’s of restaurants and tables of Americans.”

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” asked Texas fisherman Terry Vaughn upon his return to Galveston from a morning in the Gulf on a charter-for-hire vessel. Vaughn, who fishes with charter captains a half dozen times a year, is concerned any change from the current status for the commercial fishery could affect his purchasing of fresh red snapper at restaurants and fish markets.

“Magnuson is working for the fish but not working for the recreational sector, which continues to remain unaccountable for the number of fish they harvest,” said GSI’s Executive Director Margaret Henderson. “Moving management from the federal level to the regional or state-level may lead toa host of new, unintended problems, including politicians and their appointees failing to stand up to the recreational interests.”

Other Council Actions

The Council reviewed an options paper on modifications to the gag and black grouper recreational minimum size limits and recreational season for gag. For both gag and black grouper, it proposed an increase in the recreational minimum size limit from 22 inches to 24 inches total length as a preferred alternative. Members also reviewed possible recreational season lengths for gag under either a 22 inch or 24 inch minimum size limit, including possible changes to the season start and end dates. Final action on this framework action is expected during the October Council meeting.

An options paper was reviewed on Coastal Migratory Pelagics (Mackerel) Amendment 26: Modifications to Allocations, Stock Boundaries, and Sale provisions of King Mackerel and CMP Amendment 28: Separating Permits for Gulf and Atlantic Migratory Groups of KingMackerel.  Revised documents for both amendments will be reviewed during the October Council meeting.

Shrimping

The Council also reviewed a draft options paper for Amendment 17 that addresses the expiration of the shrimp permit moratorium. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

The Council also reviewed a draft options paper for Amendment 17 that addresses the expiration of the shrimp permit moratorium. It decided to spit Amendment 17 into two documents – Amendment 17A and 17B in order to address related issues without jeopardizing the timely approval and implementation of actions directly addressing the moratorium.

Amendment 17A will address the permit moratorium and royal red shrimp endorsements, and Amendment 17B will consider other permit issues such as setting a target number of Gulf shrimp vessel permits and whether to create a Gulf shrimp vessel permit reserve pool, specification of optimum yield, and issues about transiting in federal waters. Public hearings will be held around the Gulf coast in the coming months.

A public hearing draft on data collection was reviewed on a joint amendment between the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils, which considers modifying the frequency and method of reporting for charter and headboats fishing for reef fish and coastal migratory pelagics in the Gulf of Mexico, and snapper, grouper, dolphin, wahoo, and coastal migratory pelagics in the South Atlantic.

The Council requested that the Technical Subcommittee of the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils on Electronic Logbook Reporting Guidelines, in coordination with GulfFIN, ACCSP, SEFSC and Council staff develop a reference document that describes specific catch and effort reporting elements, data standards, and protocols to standardize implementation of Southeast region-wide electronic monitoring initiatives.

It chose a preferred alternative requiring federally permitted for-hire vessels to use a NMFS approved electronic device that automatically records vessel location at specified time intervals for later transmission in the Gulf – both headboat and charter vessel.

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the former editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. .

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