CCA Discussion Document Ends in Success

Controversial paper accomplished goals by shining light on red snapper management failures

Posted on August 12, 2009

At a Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting this week in Orange Beach, Alabama, CCA Gulf Fisheries Consultant Dr. Russell Nelson elaborated on a controversial discussion document designed to spark debate on the issue of catch share programs and their impact on the recreational Gulf red snapper fishery. His presentation on the Free Market Approach to Gulf Red Snapper demonstrated to both fishery managers and the angling public how unfair the current management system is to anglers and how extreme the impacts could be.

“The intent was to create a platform that ensures recreational anglers are not left out of the debate and out of the fishery,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “Even though the recommendations will never be implemented, CCA developed this discussion document to force managers to consider the lengths they would have to go to create a level playing field for recreational anglers under the current system. As it stands now, recreational anglers do not have access to 51 percent of the red snapper harvest. A handful of commercial fishers are profiting from the exclusive right to this public resource while hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers are left on the dock with shortened seasons and shrinking bag limits.”
CCA offered the Free Market Approach to Gulf Red Snapper to the Gulf Council in April as a concept document to challenge a failed management paradigm that now threatens recreational participation in the snapper fishery. The document presented a completely out-of-the-box approach to management of red snapper based wholly on a free-market system rather than an unfair sector allocation.
“Recreational anglers shouldn’t be forced to even consider options like buying access to a public resource that has been given away to industrial harvesters, but that’s where the Administration's red snapper catch share program is going to leave us if we don’t create the debate and find a workable alternative,” said Brewer. “The public needs to realize how unfair this situation really is.”
“This discussion document was created to be very broad and very fluid, and clearly it has gotten us to where we are now with this debate. With the creation of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Task Force on Catch Shares and the Limited Access Privilege Program Advisory Panel, it is clear this issue is finally starting to get some attention,” said Nelson.
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We will be able to accept comments and questions on this issue until August 21, and selected comments may be posted below. Thank you.
Ted Venker
Newsroom Moderator
Q. Do I sense you guys backpedaling?
Angela H.
Cut n Shoot, Texas
A. Not at all. As we clearly stated all along, the free market discussion document was a concept piece designed to stimulate debate, and get recreational anglers involved in the discussion. It accomplished both goals. Be honest – had you ever even heard of a catch share before this document appeared all over the Internet?
- Newsroom Moderator
Q. The plain fact is that this was an elitist proposal and you are not fooling anyone. You’re still looking to sell fish to the highest bidder and the common angler will be left out.
Steven R.
Conroe, Texas
A. All discussion documents are, by their nature, provocative but this allegation is a reach. The document was never intended to limit recreational access. The document presented a series of possibilities that would have increased recreational access. For example, one iteration of it could have seen state agencies buying portions of the commercial quota and distributing it to recreational license holders. The paper was intended to spur wide open debate, but I can assure you that closing down recreational access was never the goal.  We’ve lost too much access already.
- Newsroom Moderator
Q. All of this debate over tags and selling fish and quotas is nonsense. There are more snapper out there than when I was a kid. You guys are literally off the tracks if you think there is a need to be coming up with crazy schemes like this.
Martin D.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
 A. Based on what we are hearing from our members, it’s hard to argue with that. It’s clear there are a lot of people catching a lot of red snapper out there. There seems to be a disconnect between what anglers are catching and what the science says.
However, CCA has pledged to take positions that are based on the best available science, because if you don’t follow the best science, you’re really just driving at night with the headlights off. We are eager to see the results from the upcoming SEDAR stock assessment update. There have been encouraging signs that there may be some recovery in progress or new data such as Dr. Shipp’s study that show the stock may be in better shape than we think. (click HERE to see a CCA press release on Dr. Shipp’s study).
- Newsroom Moderator
Q. With where that proposal is now, what good has it really done? What good could possibly come from this?
Ron W.
Corpus Christi, Texas
 A. Some of the mechanisms contained within this very broad concept could still become the means to move commercial red snapper quota to the recreational sector. Under the current catch share program, commercial quota will supposedly soon be available to persons [and entities] outside the commercial industry, but no mechanism exists to actually move it over to the recreational side for angler use.
In the best case, some variation of this proposal could be used to determine where the greatest economic benefits from this fishery reside. It could be that a 60% recreational to 40% commercial split works best. Or 70% recreational to 30% commercial. Whatever the final result, we’re certain that we can do better than the current 51% commercial to 49% recreational split that we’re suffering through today.
- Newsroom Moderator
Q. I may find my house burned down for saying this, but it is good to see some group looking down the road and looking out for our kids and grandkids and their fishing opportunities. This may not be the best way to do it but it doesn’t hurt at all to at least look under some new rocks for answers to red snapper. The feds have done a horrible job of managing it so far.
Lynn B.
Lake Jackson, Texas
Q. Wouldn’t it simply be better to say that CCA is completely opposed to limited access programs and access shares than to circulate such a controversial document in the first place? Did it ever occur to you that you might be opening a door that you wouldn’t be able to close?
Tom H.
Houston, Texas
 A. CCA has issued a statement in opposition to catch shares. Please see this CCA press release from August 7, 2009: NOAA Catch Share Programs Threaten Recreational Angling.
Contrary to what you may hear in other quarters, the catch share train has been roaring down the tracks for some time. Click here for a Briefing Document on Catch Shares that contains an article on the History of Exclusive Fishing Rights.
Catch shares are a tool that has been around for decades, mostly in purely commercial fisheries, but their use took on new urgency when Dr. Jane Lubchenco was appointed by President Obama to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Click HERE to get a sense of Dr. Lubchenco’s fondness for catch shares. Many other articles detailing her views on catch shares and her long involvement with the environmental community can be found by doing a Google search.
CCA is very active with this issue on the Gulf Council’s Limited Access Privilege Program advisory panel and the NOAA Catch Shares Task Force.
- Newsroom Moderator
Q. I personally believe the CCA has sold out the offshore fisherman. My wife and I did not join the CCA this year and will not next year - or ever - until I see a drastic change in the goals of the CCA. The CCA is supposed to be for the fisherman - protecting our resources for future generations to fish. When - if ever - the CCA demonstrates a conscious effort to accept reality they may get us back. 
A. CCA is very concerned about offshore fisheries and has a long track record of involvement with them. CCA’s ultimate goal as an advocacy organization is reflected in the mission statement, which includes the notion of restoring and conserving a resource “…for the use and enjoyment of the general public.” In a very real sense, our mission is to benefit recreational anglers and we have taken the position that the greatest benefit comes from developing a long-term outlook and creating or maintaining healthy, restored, sustainable fisheries, and not just encouraging anglers to participate in the last great buffalo hunt.  Our goal is to be a resource-first organization that uses the best available science to ensure a healthy resource so that we can advocate for the greatest possible opportunities for recreational angling now and for future generations.
Unfortunately, many federal fisheries are in terrible shape from a management system that did exactly as you suggest - it looked out for the fisherman first and chose not to make the hard conservation decisions that would have kept those stocks healthy. As a result, many federal fisheries are facing draconian recovery measures to make up for decades of bad management.
-Newsroom Moderator