Fish trap proposal turns back the clock on conservation

Proposal to bring back outlawed gear stuns conservationists

Posted on December 10, 2009

An unusual alliance of environmental groups and commercial longliners is exploring the use of controversial fish traps in the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery, leaving long-time participants in federal fishery management issues surprised at the re-emergence of the highly destructive gear. Fish traps were banned by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in 1996, but were not fully phased out of the Gulf until 2006.

“There are so many things we should be working on for the conservation of our marine resources, yet here we are with another attempt by the environmental community to keep commercial fishing operations in business at all costs,” said Pat Murray, president. “It is just baffling that fish traps are back in the discussion, especially when some of these same environmental groups are pushing to give away permanent harvesting rights to the commercial fishing industry through catch share programs. It is difficult to comprehend the ultimate goal of these efforts.”
 
A workshop on the use of fish traps is being sponsored next week in St. Petersburg by the environmental groups Oceana, The Ocean Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund, and by commercial fishing organizations Southern Offshore Fishing Association, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance and the Gulf Fishermen’s Association. Commercial longliners in the Gulf of Mexico are killing excessive numbers of threatened loggerhead sea turtles and the commercial longline fleet has requested the use of fish traps in return for reducing the longline fishing effort. The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council has agreed to place the use of fish traps as an alternative in its proposals for Reef Fish Amendment 31.
 
“It should be abundantly clear that substituting one harmful gear for another harmful gear that has already been banned in U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic is completely unacceptable,” said Russell Nelson, CCA's Gulf Fisheries consultant. “Instead of searching for ways to perpetuate these fisheries which are rife with problems, the focus should be on finding ways to reduce destructive commercial fishing effort to the greatest extent possible.”
 
Among the issues leading to the ban on fish traps in 1996 was the prevalence of lost and abandoned gear that continue to catch and kill untold numbers of fish and other marine life for years. In the South Atlantic region, when fish trappers were allowed to leave traps in the water the Florida Department of Natural Resources documented loss rates of 25, 63 and even 100 percent in some years. Managers also found that traps are capable of exerting more harvesting pressure than traditional hook and line gear because the traps are “fishing” for hours or days at a time.
 
Click HERE to see comments in opposition to fish traps prepared by CCA Florida.
 
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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.
 
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Ted Venker
Newsroom Moderator
 
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH