Recreational Fishery Hijacked

Gulf Council considers plan to reward commercial sector for overfishing amberjack

Posted on September 10, 2007

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has declared that Gulf greater amberjack are overfished and is considering increasing the commercial share of the fishery and reducing the recreational bag limit to one fish for every two anglers aboard a vessel. The recreational restrictions are being considered despite the fact that unchecked commercial overfishing since 1990 is the primary cause of problems in the fishery.

“There is no logic that can explain even considering this type of allocation shift,” said Fred Miller, chairman of the CCA National Government Relations Committee. “The significant factors that led to overfishing were the lack of a commercial quota and any effort to hold that sector within its allocated share since 1990, and yet now the Council is actually considering rewarding the commercial sector for overfishing the resource.”
Prior to the sudden escalation in commercial harvest of amberjack in the mid-1980s, the recreational sector took about 86 percent of the total harvest. Commercial harvest increased from less than 5 percent prior to 1982 to 34 percent in 1987. In 1990, Amendment 1 to the Gulf Reef Fish Plan formally adopted an allocation of 84 percent to the recreational sector and 16 percent to the commercial industry in a clear attempt to stabilize the amberjack fishery at its historic allocation ratios and prevent expansion of the commercial sector. 
Regulations included in Amendment 1 were designed to produce a 45 percent reduction in harvest for both sectors, but from 1990 to 1993 annual commercial landings were reduced just 22 percent while recreational landings were reduced by 42 percent. Today, the effective allocation of amberjack is 68 percent recreational to 32 percent commercial due solely to the failure to limit commercial harvest effectively.
“Commercial landings have never been controlled and that is the main reason the stock is overfished,” said David Cummins, CCA president. “There is no sense of fairness or good governance in forcing the recreational sector to suffer from the lack of controls over the commercial fishery. The allocation does not need to be changed; it needs to be enforced.”
If the current allocation was effectively enforced, a reduction in the recreational bag limit would not be necessary and the conservation goal could be achieved by raising the recreational minimum size from 28 inches to 30 inches.
“Rather than exercise some control over the commercial fishing sector, the Council is obviously trying to take the easy way out,” said Miller. “Anglers have done their part to conserve amberjack in the past and are willing to do more to restore the resource today. But we can’t be expected to pay for the greed of the commercial sector or the reluctance of federal authorities to enforce the rules. It is time for the Council to live up to its responsibilities.”
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH