EDF Urges Nat'l Committee To Endorse Use Of Individual Fishing Quotas To Help The Environment And Fishing Communities

January 26, 1998

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today urged the Committee to Review Individual Fishing Quotas to endorse the use of individual fishing quotas to help the environment and fishing communities. At the request of Congress, the Committee to Review Individual Fishing Quotas will meet in New Orleans on January 26 and 27. A major focus of the New Orleans meeting will be on the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery. “Individual fishing quota” — or IFQ — refers to a federal permit issued to individual fishers to harvest a specified percentage of the total allowable catch of a fishery. Congress has established a moratorium on IFQs through October 2000 and charged the National Academy of the Sciences with providing recommendations for implementing a national policy.

“Traditional management measures aimed at rebuilding the severely overfished Gulf of Mexico red snapper stock, including a commercial quota and fishery closure, have created a destructive race for fish — called a derby,” said EDF senior economist Dr. Pete Emerson. “Under derby management, commercial fishers must race to catch fish as quickly as possible when the season opens to maximize their share of the quota before it is filled and the season closes. Many fishers and the environment suffer under this system.”

“Measures implemented by fishery managers since 1990 have left our fishery in a shambles,” said Felix Cox, commercial red snapper fisher from Aransas Pass, Texas. “We must compress a year’s worth of fishing into two months of frenzied derby fishing, while working under dangerous weather conditions and with little sleep. The erratic supply of fish results in low prices paid to fishers and creates problems with spoilage, availability, and consumer confidence. I gave up fishing for other species during the closed season for red snapper because of the huge amount of red snapper discarded.”

“Individual transferable quotas (ITQs) — a type of IFQ in which quota shares can be freely bought and sold — promote sustainable fisheries by ending the race for fish,” said Emerson. “Under ITQ management, the total allowable catch is divided into individual shares and distributed to fishers according to criteria such as historical participation in the fishery. After the initial allocation of ITQs, participants can enter and leave the fishery, or adjust their individual harvest, by buying and selling shares. The derby would end because fishers could harvest their shares at any time without fear that someone else would catch their fish. Benefits would include more efficient harvest capacity, a more reliable and higher quality product, and less ecological harm. Congress hurt the commercial red snapper fishery when it imposed an ITQ moratorium just when fishery managers and many fishers had recognized this strategy as the only means to end the derby.”

EDF, together with Mr. Cox, have prepared a paper entitled, “Managing the Gulf of Mexico Commercial Red Snapper Fishery.” EDF will be present in New Orleans to urge the Committee to endorse the use of ITQs in the red snapper fishery and offer examples of how ITQs can be tailored to meet the needs of individual fisheries to benefit the environment, fishers, and their communities. Mr. Cox will testify in support of ITQs. The New Orleans meeting is the third in a series of five to be held around the nation. The Committee’s report is due to Congress in October 1998.

The Environmental Defense Fund, a leading, national, NY-based nonprofit organization, represents 300,000 members. EDF links science, economics, and law to create innovative, economically viable solutions to today’s environmental problems.