CCA Files Lawsuit to Stop Gulf Grouper Giveaway

"Fundamentally flawed" catch share program a threat to angling

Posted on September 28, 2009

HOUSTON, TX – Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) has filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Fort Myers, Florida, challenging the adoption and implementation of Amendment 29 to the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Management Plan approved by United States Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke on August 30. Amendment 29 gives away a majority share of Gulf grouper to the commercial fishing industry through a catch share program.

“CCA has stated from the beginning that this management action is fundamentally flawed,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of the CCA National Government Relations Committee. “In moving forward with Amendment 29, the federal government has disregarded the multiple provisions in the Magnuson Stevens Act designed to govern the impacts of such action on other participants in the fishery. The only ones considered in this amendment are the commercial fishermen.”
 
Catch share systems bestow a percentage of a public fishery resource to a select group of commercial fishermen, based on their catch history, to harvest for their own personal gain. The commercial entities pay nothing back to the public for the permanent property right to harvest a public resource, but catch share systems are nonetheless being emphasized in federal fisheries as a way to reduce overcapacity and improve economic efficiency in the commercial sector. CCA has contended that in fisheries where there is a large and growing recreational sector, exclusive fishing rights proposals maximize benefits to the commercial fishing industry while ignoring the participation and beneficial economic impacts of recreational fishing.
 
“In more than 30 years of practice in fisheries law, I have not seen a more arbitrary action than this one,” said Robert G. Hayes, CCA general counsel. CCA has asked for an expedited hearing and expects the government to answer the lawsuit within the next 60 days. “We are going to proceed as quickly as the court will allow to prevent the implementation of this egregious decision.”
 
To see a copy of the official comments CCA submitted to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council on Amendment 29 in June 2009, visit the Catch Share section of the CCA Newsroom at www.JoinCCA.org.
 
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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
 
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH
 
ACTION ITEM
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We will be able to accept comments and questions on this issue until October 15, and selected comments may be posted below. Thank you.
 
Ted Venker
Newsroom Moderator
 
I spend approximately $500 every time I go fishing in the Gulf of Mexico that has a direct economic impact to merchants in the State of Florida. I would like to continue doing so but will not be able to with the wrong decisions that are being made.
- Joel G.
 
Q. Glad to see you finally woke up. Why didn't you take this same action on red snapper a few years ago?
9-30-09
- Mark K.
 
A. At the time the red snapper program was put in place, one of CCA's focuses was to undo the inequitable allocation between the commercial and recreational sectors. The intention was to move allocation to the recreational side by any means necessary, even if it meant buying commercial quota for use on the recreational side. The Council delayed any action to achieve that for five years, and we can all see where that has left us - sitting on the dock. The role of IFQs in fisheries management has become a growing threat. What could have become a mechanism to increase access for recreational anglers has turned into a tool to lock us out. That is unacceptable.
 
In fact, after seeing what happened with red snapper, CCA worked to change federal law so that recreational interests would be better protected, and we are now going to court since those protections were ignored by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the development of the grouper catch share program. 
 
- Newsroom Moderator
 
Nice move CCA. Its been a while since you guys have really supported the offshore fisherman. It's good to see you guys on the right side of an issue again. I will wait and see if this is a one off.
9-30-09
- Al R.
 
Q. I am very happy to see CCA taking action against catch shares. It is very disappointing to me though that it was CCA that originally brought about this "thinking outside the box" approach to fisheries management. I for one sincerely hope that CCA now sees the animal that it has created and that the recreational fishermen do not pay the grand price of losing the opportunity to participate in an underutilized fishery such as the case with the current snapper situation. CCA should be pushing the government for a better data collection system than pushing the blame on to a sector as it did with the shrimp bycatch stance.
9-30-09
 - Rory S.
 
A. Glad to see you appreciate the lawsuit. I am alarmed to read that you think CCA created catch shares. That simply is not true. There is apparently a lot of confusion out there about where catch shares came from. The concept of catch shares stretches back decades. Here is an article on our web site entitled The History of Exclusive Fishing Rights that explores where this concept originated and how some of the problems developed. It is a long read, but worth the effort to learn more about where catch shares started and where they are likely going in different regions.
 
Regarding your remark about our shrimp trawl bycatch stance, it is hard to see where we go wrong winning a lawsuit to force the government to rein in any type of destructive bycatch. That was an important step in the recovery of red snapper, and it is hard to imagine we will get this fishery where we want it to be without accomplishing that step first.
- Newsroom Moderator
 
Mike S. - I edited out all of the unrelated, random CCA-bashing contained in your original message but wanted to respond to your reference to the lawsuit on Amendment 29. When you say  “I'd say it's time for some changes (within CCA) as the latest is just a token gesture and more rhetoric," the only response I can offer is that if you believe filing a lawsuit in federal district court against a management measure that is being actively pushed into federal fisheries by an immensely well-funded environmental movement AND a newly elected administration is a mere token gesture and rhetoric, you are simply mistaken.
 
This is a major legal action that could define how our marine resources are managed in the future, and it is not at all unlike our efforts against marine protected areas a few years ago. At this point, the CCA lawsuit is the only thing that could slow down or stop this train.
- Newsroom Moderator
 
It is about time the CCA woke up and recognized the recreational fisherman is who supported you from the beginning.  This one act does not change the fact that the CCA has consistently thrown the recreational fisherman under the bus.  I still won't join CCA again, but a move in the right direction finally.
- Daniel G.
 
Q. I don't understand all this flip-flopping. You guys were pushing a recreational tag proposal for red snapper just a few months ago and now you are suing over a commercial catch share program for grouper. Are you for these things or against them?
- Stephen R.
 
A. The red snapper free market proposal was a discussion document that presented a series of possibilities that would have increased recreational access to red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, which currently stands at 51% commercial to 49% recreational. One iteration of that document would have state agencies buying portions of the commercial quota and distributing it to recreational license holders. The document was developed as a way to start thinking about how to move commercial red snapper quota over to the recreational sector, a move which will be allowed under the current red snapper plan in about two years, although the federal government still has no idea how to do it. It should be noted that it was a discussion document created to find ways to unravel the existing red snapper IFQ system. CCA never "pushed" the concept since it was not a board position. Most of the alarmist publicizing of that document was done by other groups that did not fully understand either the document itself or the reasons behind its creation.
 
The CCA lawsuit over Amendment 29, on the other hand, is a board-approved action meant to prevent the implementation of a catch-share program for Gulf grouper.
 
Both the discussion document and the lawsuit seek to achieve the same end - prevention or mitigation of catch share programs in fisheries where there is a large and growing recreational presence. If you want to know where CCA stands on this issue and for more background information, check out this Briefing Document on Catch Shares or see the Official Comments CCA filed on Amendment 29 back in June of 2009.
- Newsroom Moderator
 
I feel for the rec fisherman also, even though I am a commercial. Please make comment that only 31 percent of the permit holders even got to vote on the proposal. The large fleets and longliners are the ones getting their way again, as usual. They got rid all the small guys like me when NOAA IFQ'd red snapper and now it is the small guys like me and the other 69 percent that they will take away from. I have several hundred thousand dollars invested in my boat and equipment along with all the permits and tracking devices. Please speak out for us also. The government is totally out of hand. They just keep creating new high paying jobs for themselves and the hell with all of us. Thank you for your time and good luck.
- Capt. Randall J.
 
Thank you CCA Newsroom Moderator, for addressing all of these issues and taking the genuine questions seriously by answering with dignity and sound science. 
- Liz H.
 
Oh great. Please not another CCA lawsuit. The last time CCA sued over red snapper bycatch it forced the Gulf Council to try to rebuild red snapper by 2010 instead of 2032, which is why the season has been slammed shut and why we are stuck with these ridiculous regulations. We don't need that kind of help again.
Jerry Z.
 
That characterization of the CCA lawsuit over shrimp trawl bycatch is incorrect, although it has been widely circulated on the internet, apparently by people unfamiliar with the situation. The best answer to this charge comes from the minutes of an exchange at a recent Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting between Jim Smarr, the director of the Texas chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, and Dr. Roy Crabtree, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Region:
 
MR. SMARR:  It’s my understanding that there was a lawsuit over bycatch reduction and the shrimp number was 80 percent used in that lawsuit.  A federal judge in Houston, if I understand this correctly, has forced this council into a position that red snapper had to be fixed in two years and not the 2032 plan.  Am I incorrect about that?
 
DR. CRABTREE:  Yes, the rebuilding plan still is to 2032.  There’s no two-year rebuilding plan.  What we’re faced with is the Magnuson requirement to have annual catch limits in place in 2010 that are sufficient to end the overfishing immediately.
 
MR. SMARR:  There’s a tie-in between the lawsuit and what Congress did in the Magnuson that required you all to hit that in two years.
 
DR. CRABTREE:  No, the lawsuit just required the council to come back in and amend the plan and the council did that.  Now, when the council put the plan in place, they had a phase-out of overfishing that would phase it out by I think it was 2010 or 2011, but that was the council’s decision, but the rebuilding plan is still until 2032 and that never changed.