Gulf states on target with snapper management plan

Posted on April 02, 2015

They say you know you are over the target when you start taking flak.

If the hysterical reaction from the commercial fishing sector is any indication, it appears that the five Gulf state fisheries directors are on target with regard to their plan to assume management of Gulf red snapper.

Federal management of red snapper has been a three-decade disaster of confusion and misguided regulations and it defies belief that there are still those who see fit to shrilly defend that system to the bitter end. Of course, the most strident are the ones who have directly benefited from the federal management system and received ownership of public wildlife resources for their own use and profit, so perhaps their views should be taken with a grain of salt.

On the other side of the spectrum, the state fisheries directors for the five Gulf states are professional stewards of the resource, with extensive training in wildlife management in general and marine science in particular. They know what they are doing. Their state-based management plan for red snapper is based on concepts they have used so successfully on species like red drum and speckled trout in the Gulf. Neither of those fisheries were subjected to privatization schemes and the states still managed to provide an unprecedented level of access for their citizens. All have been cited as tremendous conservation success stories.

In contrast, the Gulf Council is on a completely different, twisted track and has resorted to a privatization scheme to limit the public's access to red snapper in the name of proper management. When it created the red snapper catch share program in 2006 and literally gave away shares of the red snapper fishery for free to commercial operators, the Gulf Council truly lost its way. All the criteria used by the state managers to create robust fisheries and maximum access for their citizens were replaced by pure, simple greed. Today less than 400 commercial operators own 51 percent of the entire red snapper fishery. Plans are in the works for some in the charter/for-hire fishery to own roughly another 20 percent. The hundreds of thousands of anglers not in these elite categories will be left with crumbs and 9-day seasons.

Since the states unveiled their ideas for an alternative management solution for red snapper, the commercial fishing industry and some in the charter/for-hire industry have beaten down the doors of Congress to insist that the states' solution be burned down before it is even fully fleshed out. They are desperately trying to protect the incredible windfall that has been given to them in the federal system and have even resorted to calling recreational anglers "greedy." The irony that the beneficiaries of an egregious wildlife privatization scheme would label the only stakeholders not benefiting financially from that scheme as "greedy" appears lost on them.

One might wonder why the state directors would volunteer for the monumental responsibility of rebooting one of the most mismanaged fisheries in the entire country and setting it on a sensible course, but the answer is simple. They know that it does not have to be so convoluted and difficult. They know giving away pubic wildlife resources to a few stakeholders who are easier to manage is betraying the public trust. They know there is a better way because they do it every day in their states.

The answer to complicated fishery problems cannot be to funnel access through fewer and fewer lucky, wealthy entities and leave everyone else tied to the dock. As much as some people would like to distort it, the ends cannot be allowed to justify these means.

If you agree, contact your Congressmen and let them hear the other side of this story. The state directors have acted with courage in offering an alternative to a shady federal management system and their ideas should be held up, not trampled by greed.

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Issues: Gulf of Mexico