Short-term gain, long-term loss

Gulf Council tackles longlines, but fumbles future of grouper fishery.

Posted on February 02, 2009

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council engaged in buffet-style fisheries management at its latest meeting in Mississippi, picking and choosing data to plot a dubious course of action for the Gulf grouper fishery.

Faced with evidence that longline gear used in the grouper fishery is causing an unacceptable number of sea turtle deaths, the Council opted to pass an emergency rule prohibiting the destructive gear in water depths less than 50 fathoms. However, the Council opted to ignore equally compelling economic data over the value of grouper as a 100 percent recreational fishery and skirted questions about the impact of the new emergency rule on the future of the commercial grouper fishery. Instead, the Council proceeded with an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program that may well permanently lock a significant portion of the fishery into the commercial sector.
“This is a classic case of tunnel vision. The Council was so locked in on implementing an IFQ program that it couldn’t even acknowledge anything that might contradict it,” said Dr. Russell Nelson, Gulf fisheries consultant for Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). “At the very least the Council should have delayed action on the IFQ program until this new information was properly evaluated.”
CCA recently released an economic study by Gentner Consulting Group which revealed that the maximum economic value of the Gulf grouper fishery to our nation as a whole would be achieved by allocating 100 percent of the fishery to the recreational sector. Brad Gentner, author of the study, ran the recreational economics data collection program for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for eight years before starting his own company. As a NMFS Economist in the Division of Economics and Social Analysis, Gentner specialized in survey design, recreational fisheries demand and welfare analysis, non-market valuation, and economic impact modeling for recreational fisheries. 
“That economic study raises some very serious questions about the wisdom of proceeding with a management program that gives a sizeable percentage of the grouper fishery to a very few commercial fishers, possibly forever,” said Patrick Murray, CCA vice president. “At the same time, no one can even predict what the commercial grouper fishery will look like in a few months as a result of an emergency rule prohibiting their primary fishing gear in their prime fishing areas. The foundation of this entire IFQ program is on very shaky ground, yet the Council chose to forge ahead. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The economic study, Allocation of the Gulf of Mexico Gag and Red Grouper Fisheries, may be viewed on the CCA web site,
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH