Thursday, June 1, 2017


Anyone who follows federal fisheries issues, and is not deaf and blind, is aware of the debate going on over Gulf of Mexico red snapper. 

Anglers have repeatedly overfished the red snapper resource, and federal managers, bound by the  Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation andManagement Act’s mandates to prohibit overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks, have responded by tightening regulations in an effort to limit red snapper harvest.

Anglers have responded in turn, complaining about the federal restrictions and prevailing upon the five Gulf states to go out of compliance with the federal rules, which do not apply to private boat anglers fishing within state waters, and extend state seasons far beyond what federal managers allow.

Such long state seasons abet further recreational overfishing, forcing federal regulators to tighten regulations again.  This year, because of such spiral of anglers’ overharvest and federal regulators tightening rules, the recreational red snapper season in the Gulf is a mere 3 days.

Some members of the angling community have expressed their strong belief that the only way to fix the red snapper problem is to take the fishery away from federal managers, and get it out from under the conservation and rebuilding mandates of Magnuson-Stevens, and had responsibility for Gulf red snapper management over to the states. 

“There are plenty of good arguments why Washington ought to let the Gulf of Mexico states assume management of the red snapper fishery beyond their own state waters.  Yet five of the most persuasive reasons seem to have been missed in all the testimony and written comment about the proposal.
“I’m speaking of the five fish and wildlife management agencies of the Gulf states.  I’ve spent the last 20-plus years working with the individuals who lead and work in these departments, and I have found them all to be impressively competent professionals—serious and passionate about sustaining the stocks of fish and game under their management.
“In my own state of Louisiana, we are justly proud of our Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which has developed a state-of-the-art creel survey for offshore anglers…
“This is exactly the kind of data that fisheries managers need to protect red snapper—but only if they have the authority to act.
“Once Washington gets out of the way, the five state fisheries managers can respond with flexible approaches that reflect the real state of affairs in the Gulf, they will be able to preserve the species for the enjoyment of all sectors, with no group excluded…
“Louisiana wasn’t alone; each of the five Gulf States has been at the forefront of advanced fisheries science.
“It was their devotion to the sustainability of red snapper that drove the five states’ fisheries directors to put aside regional, political and personal differences and take the historic step of coming together to develop THE FIVE STATES PLAN.
“They were doing what we ask all leaders to do when confronted with a serious problem like federal mismanagement of the red snapper fishery; real leaders set aside distractions, utilize the most advanced scientific tools and information at their disposal and then act in the best interests of future generations.”
Although federal managers still retain primary authority to manage red snapper in federal waters, late last week the State of Louisiana’s fisheries managers, who were so graciously praised by Mr. Angers, took a big step toward improving red snapper management in the Gulf.  As described in a press release issued by the state,

“Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday (May 25) that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) plans to conduct an innovative pilot program designed to help recreational anglers battling short seasons for red snapper in federal waters.
“The two-year pilot program will incorporate the use of handheld technology to produce real-time data on what anglers are catching.  Additionally, anglers won’t have to fish their limit during a particular season.   They will be able to choose what days are best for them to go fishing…
“LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said, ‘Just like the governor, we have heard from anglers across Louisiana and it is clear that what they want most is the flexibility to fish for red snapper when it makes the most sense for them and their families.  So we are going to test a new way of doing this.  Instead of using a season, we are going to try giving fishermen a set number of red snapper that they can catch in federal waters, and ask them to record that data on their smartphone.’”
“The pilot program—to be in operation in 2018-2019—is the linchpin of LDWF’s Exempted Fishing Permit Application for State Management Pilot Project (or EFP).  It has been delivered to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and is expected to be deliberated by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council at its next meeting in June.”
“Here’s how the EFP program will work.  There will be 150 study participants selected by random drawing and subsequently contacted by e-mail.  They will have the choice of accepting or refusing to participate.  If that angler declines, then another one will be chosen at random.  The participants will be able to catch [a total of] 25,000 pounds of red snapper per year.  The anglers would have to abide by the federal size limit.  The EFP program would have no daily bag limit and the total limit per EFP participant would be determined by the number of fish allocated to each participant.
“What this program is attempting is several fold, Montoucet said.  ‘We are trying to show that we can scientifically monitor the red snapper caught in federal waters, provide anglers with more days of access to the fish and allow them to make larger catches.  And most importantly, the state wants to show that we can use state-of-the-art technology to safely control the red snapper population on our own.”
The Louisiana proposal seemed to prove that all the good words that Mr. Angers had written about the state’s fisheries managers, and their ability to manage red snapper, was justified.  Here, we have hard evidence of Louisiana using “state-of-the-art” technology to create a “flexible” approach to red snapper management in order to allow greater access to the resource today while acting “in the best interests of future generations.”

It would seem certain that Mr. Angers and his colleagues at the Center for Sportfishing Policy would be falling all over themselves to praise Louisiana for its initiative, and generally endorse the proposed program.

But that’s not what happened.  In fact, just the opposite occurred.

The Center for Sportfishing Policy failed to endorse the Louisiana proposal; it has been remarkably silent on the issue.  However, some of its constituent organizations were far from silent, and their objections to the proposal say a lot about their real goals with respect to state management of red snapper.

“These ideas were discussed a few months ago, and we forcefully rejected them for the recreational sector.  This is ultimately designed to privatize and set up an [individual fishing quota] system for the recreational sector.
It would limit effort and pick winners and losers.  We are totally, totally stunned by this press release.  [emphasis added]”
Chris Macaluso, the director of marine fisheries for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, added to Mr. Cresson’s statement, saying

“This is an IFQ system, plain and simple.  This is an attempt to get private citizens to own a public resource.”
The allegation that the Louisiana proposal creates individual fishing quotas, and particularly Mr. Macaluso’s claim that it lets citizens “own” a public resource, may seem superficially attractive, but fails any reasoned and fact-based analysis.

In an IFQ system, each quota owner gets a right to a set proportion of the overall harvest (and not to the resource itself; the government may reduce the allowable harvest all the way to zero, and the quota owner would have no right of recourse against the management agency).  Such right is generally permanent and transferrable; a quota owner who chooses not to fish may rent out his or her share, and a quota owner who wants to get out of a fishery may sell his or her quota to another person.

That’s not the case with the Louisiana proposal, which would give red snapper anglers about the same rights that a hunter who draws a Wyoming elk tag has to a bugling bull.  The hunter has been granted the opportunity to try to harvest one animal over the course of one season.  Whether that hunter is successful or not, the next season, another lottery is held, and the fact that someone held a tag in the previous year has no bearing on whether they will draw a tag again.

However, Mr. Cresson’s comment that the Louisiana proposal could lead to a program that would limit effort is worth looking at, particularly in the light of comments made by the American Sportfishing Association, which is the trade association for the fishing tackle industry and an important member of the Center for Sportfishing Policy.

“This pilot program is obviously the first step toward creating a harvest tag program for red snapper.  ASA and several other organizations recently completed an extensive project working with anglers and industry members throughout the Gulf region to explore alternative management options for Gulf red snapper, including harvest tags.
“While ASA is not opposed to harvest tags as a fishery management tool under unique circumstances, among the many problems with applying this approach to Gulf red snapper is one of simple arithmetic.  According to NOAA Fisheries, approximately 422,000 private recreational red snapper tags would be available Gulf-wide based on recent data.  While no accurate estimate currently exists for the total number of Gulf reef fish anglers, it’s extremely likely that there are more Gulf reef fish anglers than there are available tags.  Therefore, if harvest tags were implemented Gulf-wide, anglers would probably be lucky to receive a single tag, for the entire year.  [emphasis added]”
That statement, when combined with that of Mr. Cresson, makes it clear that the critics of the Louisiana proposal are not, despite Mr. Angers’ nice words, seeking a state-based solution that would be “in the best interests of future generations.”  They just want to kill more fish today, and the only way that they can do that is to give all management authority over red snapper to states who will not be bound by the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s requirements to end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks in a timely manner.

The problem that federal red snapper managers face today is no different than the problem faced by state elk managers out in Wyoming.  There are too many people who want to harvest a limited resource, and if the resource is to be properly managed, some of those people are going to have to miss out on the opportunity to do so in any given year.

Anglers are currently overfishing red snapper.  Thus, when Mr. Cresson complains that the Louisiana proposal “would limit effort,” he’s effectively arguing that recreational overfishing should be allowed to continue.  

Mr. Leonard is making the same argument, even more clearly, when he notes that the American Sportfishing Association opposes the proposal because only about “422,000 private recreational red snapper tags would be available Gulf-wide,” to keep harvest within the recreational catch limit, and that wouldn’t be enough tags to provide all reef fish anglers an opportunity to keep what ASA believes is a reasonable number of snapper (i.e., more than “a single tag, for the entire year”).

Boiling those comments down to their purest essence, despite earnest-sounding words about “the sustainability of red snapper” and “the best interests of future generations,” those objecting to the Louisiana proposal aren’t doing so because they’re seeking such sustainability and good stewardship of the red snapper resource, but because they want to increase the recreational red snapper kill, regardless of the long-term consequences such increase might bring.

Their hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“based on the past framing of the management conversation by those who seem to be only interested in Congress solving the problem.”
He went on to say that

“It is unfortunate that those who feel we do not ask their permission every time we want to test solutions are upset, and they choose to run to the press before actually talking things over with us.”
Given words like that, it seems as if some folks might be wearing out their welcome…

Fortunately, there are also spokesmen for the recreational fishing community who speak with wisdom and honesty.

“One gulf state has taken a smart step closer to determining its own destiny regarding red snapper management…
“The merits of this plan are easy to count.  The system would provide faster and more accurate harvest data and provide greater flexibility to anglers to fish when the weather and fishing is good.  Angers would enjoy the freedom to keep more than two snappers a day in federal waters after spending time and money to run 30 miles offshore...
Such common sense extends into the fishing tackle industry.  The American Fly Fishing Tackle Association, unlike the American Sportfishing Association, sees and understands the merits of the Louisiana proposal.  In a press release issued on May 30, AFFTA declared

“…Anglers have asked for better data, flexible access, more state management, and relief from short federal-waters access.  The EFP’s mandatory reporting and ability for participating anglers to fish federal waters during the open Louisiana state-waters seasons, while providing real-time data and state control of openings and closings is exactly what private recreational anglers have been demanding.  While this pilot project is focused on red snapper, if successful, it will provide a benchmark for other fisheries across the country…
“The State of Louisiana should be commended for thinking outside of the box.  The recreational fishery needs solutions to the short seasons.  Louisiana’s EFP is an excellent way to test the viability of bringing 21st Century technology into the fishery…”
And that pretty well sums it up.

Louisiana should be thanked for coming out with an innovative idea that could go a long way toward resolving the recreational red snapper issue in the Gulf of Mexico.

And yes, the Louisiana proposal did one more thing.  It flushed out the folks who liked to hide behind talk about the benefits of state management that both conserves the resource and provides flexibility to anglers, and made it clear that they care about neither conservation nor flexibility, but only about how many dead red snapper they can bring back to the dock.

They’ll never be able to hide so well again.

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