We’re Proud of Our Work to Reform Fisheries

EDF Statement in Response to AL.com Article

October 6, 2016
Contact: 
Jonathan Webster, 202.341.8704, jwebster@edf.org
Matt Smelser, 512.731.3023, msmelser@edf.org

A lengthy article published this week on AL.com seriously misrepresents the work of Environmental Defense Fund to advance fishery management reforms. Matt Tinning, Senior Director U.S. Oceans Program, released the following response:

“For the second time this year, AL.com has published a sloppy, inaccurate and inflammatory opinion piece about U.S. fisheries masquerading as investigative reporting. The writer’s primary focus is the Gulf of Mexico.

“AL.com, which gave EDF no opportunity to respond to many of the allegations leveled in their article, is failing its readers by presenting a distorted and factually-flawed picture of how Gulf fisheries are managed.

“Fisheries management is complex, and every decision involves difficult trade-offs based on a web of competing considerations about sustainability, access and societal impacts. In the Gulf of Mexico, EDF has worked with commercial fishermen, seafood buyers, recreational anglers, and government authorities for the last 15 years to help navigate these complex issues. We’ve done so with the singular focus of overcoming the profound management failures of the past and restoring fisheries to health for the benefit of the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal communities now and for future generations.

“We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve helped achieve. When we started, fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico were stuck under failing management that had perpetuated overfishing and reduced the population of Gulf red snapper to four percent of its historic level. Commercial fishermen worked in a derby fishery that forced them to fish in ever-shorter seasons. They often had to fish in dangerous weather and could not develop regular markets with buyers who needed more even supply.

“The new commercial management system known as an individual fishing quota (IFQ), which went on the water in 2007, has transformed the fishery. The initial allocation of quota was based on catch history, and a six percent consolidation cap was included to prevent concentration of quota in the hands of any one participant. The AL.com piece presents faulty numbers to make the false claim that some participants own much higher percentages. EDF believes that well designed fisheries management systems can prevent concentration. The claim that we favor ‘privatization’ of the resource is preposterous.

“Today, revenues for fishermen have doubled and the population of red snapper has tripled. In contrast with the pre-IFQ system, new entrants join the fishery every year, and many commercial fishermen are leading the way on innovations making the fishery even more sustainable. Restaurants, groceries stores and other seafood buyers are strong supporters of the commercial IFQ because it allows them to provide delicious, sustainable and local seafood (which they often struggled to obtain before 2007) to millions of customers.

“The Gulf of Mexico’s recreational anglers – many of whom had simply stopped targeting red snapper before 2007 because population decline had made them so hard to find – have seen their total allowable catch more than double. However, in contrast with commercial fishermen, they remain stuck under a failing management system that uses crude and outdated tools such as season limits. Many anglers are working to find better approaches. By using modern technologies like real-time tablet reporting to count every fish that they catch, headboats and charter captains can avoid the crippling economic consequences of short seasons and fish when customer demand is high.

“We’re proud to support these vital coastal small-businesses in their efforts to reform a failing system. And as private anglers consider what lessons they can learn from other wildlife management contexts (such as the rules embraced by hunters and freshwater fishermen) as an alternative to frustratingly short recreational seasons, we stand ready to assist.

“We look forward to being given space on AL.com’s website soon to respond in detail. Until then, we’ll proudly continue our work in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere to improve the health of the oceans and the livelihoods of America’s fishermen.”

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.