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Mismanagement of fisheries needs to be stopped

We went fishing in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, hoping to bring home a few snapper dinners. We dropped anchor about 16 miles offshore and we found lots of action. But it wasn’t the snapper that were biting. It was gag grouper attacking our baits. Hard hitting and always an exciting fish to catch, gag grouper is also our favorite fish to cook up.

Unfortunately, we had to release all our tasty gags. You see, the fishery for gag grouper in federal waters (starting nine miles offshore) was closed on Jan. 1 for six months. I admit, we grumbled a little about having to let our beautiful gags go, but we play by the rules and we were basically peaceful about it. Peaceful, that is, until a commercial grouper boat passed by heading for shore with what we’ll bet was thousands of pounds of gag grouper in its hold.

What we were seeing was a living example of what’s wrong with the federal management of our saltwater fisheries. These days, it seems no matter where we boaters and anglers choose to fish — East Coast, Gulf Coast, West Coast — the changing limits and area closures are nearly impossible to keep up with, and not even close to fair or reasonable!

In our case, the National Marine Fisheries Service’s closure of Gulf gag grouper for six months applies only to recreational anglers. Commercial fisherman can take 100,000 pounds of gag grouper during the closure. But, not one grouper for us! It’s a similar situation for red snapper on the southeast Atlantic coast. And that illustrates the basic problem.

As incredible as this may seem, NMFS officials somehow logic that cutting off family fishing while allowing commercial guys to take tons and tons is the fair way to manage the resource. What bull! It’s blatant pandering to the commercial interests. NMFS will say they must follow so-called historic uses of the resource and must give the largest percentage of fish for commercial taking. Never mind that recreational boaters outnumber commercial interests by over 100 to one. Never mind that the recreational fishing and boating industries contribute more to our economy and jobs. Never mind that a logical alternative for sustaining the fishery would be to set a recreational bag limit of, say, two or three gags while making major reductions in allowable commercial takes.

If you’re a dealer selling fishing boats on fresh water, you’re in luck because fresh water fishing management programs correctly make recreational fishing families their number one priority. They’re a model for salt water policies.

However, if you sell salt water fishing boats, you’ve got trouble ahead. The NMFS is commercially biased. Its policies are distorted. It’s likely your customers will be shut out of more fish and fishing areas in the future as many in the NMFS lean toward instituting policies like “catch shares” and “sector separation.”

Traditionally, our boating and angling customers are escape artists. They boat and fish to “get away from it all.” To take on battles goes against why they boat and fish. However, when they’re treated unfairly, or their rights to fish are usurped, it’s time to act. That’s finally happening with groups like the Recreational Fishing Alliance and the United Anglers of Southern California. They’re filing lawsuits. They’re rallying boaters and anglers to speak out at federal and state agency hearings. They’re backing legislative initiatives to protect fishing rights. They’re demanding fair treatment.

If you’re a salt water fishing boat dealer or manufacturer, you and your customers need to become engaged now. Invest some time to get up to speed on what’s happening or could happen. If you do, you’ll be convinced it’s good business to join and support the fishing organizations that are out front taking up the fight!

To learn more and join the RFA, call 888-JOINRFA or visit www.joinrfa.org. For the UASC, go to www.keepamericafishing.org and to support and donate to the UASC’s Ocean Access Protection Fund, visit www.oceanaccessprotectionfund.org.

Comments

5 comments on “Mismanagement of fisheries needs to be stopped

  1. Jeff Miller

    Also, please look at Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), which has been fighting for anglers rights and is responsible for getting game fish status for Red Fish, and the net ban in Florida. Visit http://www.joincca.org
    More of us dealers need to get involved instead of sitting back and complaining.

  2. AnonymousBob

    Norm:
    Did you take pictures of the commercial ship? As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Take that picture and send it to all your industry contacts highlighting the stupidity of the recreational ban while the commercial ship hauls in its load. Have those people pass the picture around to their contacts and, pretty soon, you’re looking at a huge number. You know, make it viral. Send that picture to your State/Federal reps and demand some equivalency. It’s nice to post your comments here along with the links, but a picture is sometimes the best ammunition you can ever have. Next time, take a picture, post it here, and see how quickly Congressional email inboxes fill up.

  3. gary jarvis

    Hey Joe , as that commercial boat passed by or got to the dock was that crew eating all those grouper and snapper (just a guess they caught some IFQ red snapper) they had caught? You said yourself that you love to eat those tastey fish and they are really good for you health. Or maybe they unloaded every single one of them with a FWC or other LE officer watching them becaused they called in 3 hrs early to let enforcment know they are landing a valuable resource that they have harvested in a accountable fishery.and sent them to the fish market who in turn sent them to restaraunt and sea food outlets. Why do you think they got rid of all those tasty fish? Could it possiby be to make a living producing sea food for the non boat owning, non fishing American public that have had a portion of the Nations resource set aside for them to acess? My mom is 79 years old does not have the capability to catch agrouper, nor could stand a trip offshore to have one to eat it but she will go to St Pete Beach and order one tomorrow given the chance. She loves grouper grilled.But I forgot those fish are not a publivc resource unless they are caught on a PRIVATE BOAT.

  4. Brad

    Norm

    You leave out quite a bit if information. First as a boat dealer I sell to recreational anglers, Commercial anglers, Charter captains and non anglers both recreational and commercial. I also sit on National Marine Fisheries Advisory Panel. I have extensive knowledge with this subject.

    The large Commercial allocation of 100,000 lbs you talk of is minimal to either the commercial or recreational sector. You see the recreational sector is allocated the lions share of the Gag Grouper quota (63%). Even if they were allocated that additional 100,000 lbs it would make no difference. It would not equal 1 fish additional bag limit. Both user groups received a 97% cut in Gag grouper to achieve NMFS goals of rebuilding Gag. The Commercial sector gets it 100,000 lbs as a by catch. This is allowed as NMFS has total accountability in this sector. The Gulf Grouper fleet has no Ships. They are primarily smaller boats and 60′ would be considered large. The commercial sector does not have enough Gag grouper quota to target them. Accountability is achieved in the commercial sector with Vessel Monitoring Systems and strict oversight and required 3 hour notifications Pryor to landing. This sector pays a tax right off the top on the privilege of being accountable.

    The problem in the Recreational sector is the lack of accurate accountability and NMFS estimates of the recreational take. Recreational also have the state vs federal regulations. Many time the state leaves the fishery open wile federal waters are closed. This confused the estimated take, fishermen and enforcement. Also recreational anglers tends to fish closer to shore and catch a lot of small fish. This Catch and Release fishing does not produce more fish. NMFS uses a 30% dead discard rate for fish caught under 90′. Your trip you wrote of has charged the recreational sector with a dead discard take against that allocation. I do not agree with this rate of death in released Gag grouper by recreational fishermen. Better Science is needed. NMFS says Recreational fishermen can catch their entire allocation with dead discards.

    Federally permitted Charter Fishermen really get a bad deal with the current rules. They are not allowed to fish for gags at all. Federal laws do not allow them to go with state laws that are less restrictive. These guys provide access for many recreational fishermen who do not own boats or who want to learn the water before buying a boat.

    Much of the problems lie with the science (Or Lack Of) and estimates NMFS uses. There is much debate going on with all of these issues. I am glad you wrote about the issue.

    You article is playing into the hands of a Divide and Conquer mentality. All boaters are customers of the marine industry. I feel we need and should have all boaters and fishermen and as much access as possible to the resource. I sell just as many boats to people who do not fish and would rather take there boat to one of our many waterfront restaurants to enjoy fresh grouper and leave mess to someone else. The Seafood consumer also should have access to some of this excellent eating fish.

    The good news in all of this is that the spawning biomass of Gag grouper will climb and fishing will be fantastic when we get some of these restrictions lifted. Large populations equal a larger acceptable take.

  5. Victor Kelly

    Norm, just because you SAW a commercial boat out there does not mean it had thousands of pounds of gag grouper in its hold as you state. That is pure scare mongering and uninformed speculation. In fact, if you read Brad’s post above it is clear that it would be very unlikely for them to have any significant amount of gags on the boat, if any at all. As Brad said, the 100,000 lbs of Gulf wide commercial gag quota is very small, minimal in fact. Since it is only for bycatch purposes, it just keeps incidentally caught fish from being wasted, but not targeted. As far as the fish you were catching, depending on the depth, many or all of them likely died when you released them. The rules for gag grouper are largely meant to avoid targeting by either commercial or recreational. If recreational fishermen target them anyway, it removes fish from the population whether you eat them or just release them, many of which will die.

    Despite my disagreement with the totally unfounded aspersions you cast on that unlucky commercial boat which happened to cross your path, I still like reading most of your columns.

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