Gag grouper rules leave anglers at a loss

Another federal fishery illustrates need for shift in allocation, management philosophy

Posted on September 10, 2010

HOUSTON, TX – Recreational anglers will find themselves in a familiar situation in another federal fishery when an interim rule set to go into effect in January will completely close the Gulf recreational fishery for gag grouper, yet still allow commercial boats to land and sell gags.

While the need to reduce the overall catch of gag grouper appears necessary in light of recent science revealing gags as severely overfished, the regulations raise the question that if a public resource is so reduced the public is seriously limited in its access to it, should managers remove it entirely from commercial markets and reserve the sparse availability for the public at large?
 
“This is another situation where federal managers are accommodating the commercial sector while totally closing out the recreational sector. It reinforces the need for managers to take a serious look not only at the allocations of these fisheries, but also at the philosophy that is used to manage them,” said Wiley Horton of the CCA Gulf Fisheries Committee. “After decades of commercial over-exploitation of ducks, geese and trout, state and federal agencies finally realized that the public is better served if those wildlife resources are managed purely as a public resource. It is high time we started looking at our marine resources the same way.”
 
The rule on gag is particularly irksome to recreational anglers familiar with the recent history of grouper management in the Gulf. In January of 2009, CCA released an economic study by Gentner Consulting Group showing that the maximum economic value of the Gulf grouper fishery would be achieved by allocating 100 percent of the fishery to the recreational sector. However, at its meeting in February 2009, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council chose to ignore the study and opted instead to proceed with an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program for Gulf grouper that proposed to permanently lock a significant portion of that fishery into the commercial sector forever. In September of 2009, CCA sued the federal government in federal district court over the Gulf grouper catch share program. The suit is still under consideration by the federal district court in Fort Myers, Florida.
 
“We have many challenges in federal fisheries, and most of them are connected to the need to take a serious look at reallocating fisheries based on factors like economics and changing demographics,” said Russell Nelson, CCA Gulf Fisheries consultant. “CCA has long called on federal fisheries managers to embrace the conservation ethic that has governed terrestrial resources since the 19th century and apply it to marine resource management. The Gulf grouper fishery would be an excellent place to start.”
 
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CCA is the largest marine resource conservation group of its kind in the nation. With almost 100,000 members in 17 state chapters, CCA has been active in state, national and international fisheries management issues since 1977. Visit www.JoinCCA.org for more information.