The truth comes out

Catch shares for charter/for-hire industry on the way

Posted on June 18, 2015

In the run-up to the passage of Amendment 40 by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and NOAA last year, it was repeatedly emphasized by proponents that the effort to separate charter/for-hire operators into their own sector with their own allocation was not a scheme to hand over shares of public red snapper to private ownership.

For anyone who actually believed that, rest assured, it was all blatantly untrue.

In all their choreographed testimony, proponents insisted they needed only Amendment 40 to make their industry work in the chaos of federal management of the fishery. Some charter/for-hire operators (and let me remind you that not all in the charter industry want this), Council/NOAA staff, and sympathetic Council members argued that if the CFH businesses could just separate themselves from the recreational sector, they would be able to count every fish they caught, be accountable, and lengthen their seasons in order to be more profitable. Any mention of privatization through a catch share program like the one in place for the commercial sector was diminished and dismissed out of hand.

The discussion at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting last week in Key West made it abundantly clear that it was all a sham, and proponents no longer care who knows it. In Key West, proponents of Amendment 40 let the other shoe drop.

Somewhere in the last few months, it is not entirely clear when or how, the Gulf Council directed staff to begin crafting Amendment 41, a catch share program for the charter industry, and Amendment 42, a catch share program for the headboat industry. The relevant advisory panels for the CFH sector, stacked with hand-picked Amendment 40 proponents, have already developed meticulous guidelines for the creation of these catch share amendments.

Before Amendment 40 has been in place for even a single season, the effort to further privatize Gulf red snapper is rapidly moving ahead. Amendments 41 and 42 will almost certainly be developed at the same swift pace and with the same helpful assistance from Gulf Council and NOAA staff that characterized Amendment 40’s unstoppable passage.

As originally intended, catch share programs must be approved by a referendum of stakeholders, which before Amendment 40 would have included the entire recreational sector. To pull off this takeover of public marine resources, proponents had to first separate charter/for-hire operators into their own sector (Amendment 40) so that those who are about to be gifted a public resource would be the only ones allowed to vote on whether they accept this windfall (Amendments 41 and 42).

How many people are likely to vote against gifting themselves some portion of the Gulf red snapper fishery? If it follows the commercial catch share program, they’ll get it for free and won’t even have to pay resource rent on it. What other natural resource in the country is managed this way? I don’t know one.

I would be very surprised to see any “no” votes in this fish grab.

The ultimate result of this charade, as we’ve maintained all along, is that upwards of 70 percent of the Gulf red snapper fishery will be privately held by businesses that will determine how you, the public, can access it. It is doubtful your 10-day season will ever change significantly. Having made close to three-quarters of the fishery rich and happy, the Gulf Council and NOAA Fisheries are unlikely to pay any more attention to the private angling sector than they ever have, and likely will pay it even less. Rather, expect this blueprint to be used to privatize other fisheries, in the Gulf and elsewhere.

Things have come to this dire situation because the federal Council process has been thoroughly exploited by commercial operators who are in position to take ownership of public resources, and by environmentalists whose goal is to establish greater control by allowing fewer and fewer people access to these publicly owned fish. Together, these unlikely bedfellows have manipulated federal laws and processes that actually encourage this type of management and, unintentionally or not, marginalize recreational anglers.

CCA has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Amendment 40, and it is the only thing currently standing between recreational anglers and management oblivion in the red snapper fishery, but the ultimate responsibility for this mess does not rest with the courts. Congress is the only entity that can change how our nation’s marine fisheries are managed, and they will act only if millions of recreational anglers take the time to let them know that this is not the future we want to see.

It is essential that anglers make contact with their elected officials and make them aware of the situation. Click HERE to find out how to contact your representatives and be on the lookout for critical alerts from CCA. We’ve seen the future, and unless we make our voices heard, there is no place in it for recreational anglers.