New red snapper report shows business, environment success-story

August 20, 2009

Contact: Pam Baker, Environmental Defense Fund, 512.691.3439-o or 361.510.5743-c; or David Krebs, Ariel Seafoods, Inc., 850.259.5358-c
Media Contact: Laura Williamson, Environmental Defense Fund, 512.691.3447-w or 512.828.1690-c or lwilliamson@edf.org

(August 20, 2009) The National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) new 2008 annual report on the “individual fishing quota” (IFQ) program for Gulf of Mexico commercially-caught red snapper shows continued success for the fishery two years into the program, and provides additional support for implementing IFQs to rebuild other troubled fisheries.

“The old system made no sense – vessels depended on racing to fill our catch limit, no matter the effect on fish we accidentally caught and wasted, or the empty plates of fish-lovers during the long closed seasons,” said David Krebs, commercial fisherman and owner of Ariel Seafoods, Inc. in Destin, Florida.

“Finally, fishermen have a chance to be real stewards of the resource and much better opportunities to run a productive business and provide a high-quality product to consumers year-round,” Krebs said.

IFQs, one type of catch share management, work by allotting a portion of the catch limit to each fisherman as a secure and transferable fishing privilege. IFQs provide fishermen with a long-term stake in the health of the fishery and powerful incentives for conservation. In turn, fishermen comply with strict monitoring and enforcement rules and help pay for management. The long season closures and other destructive rules of the past are eliminated. This means that fishermen can chose when to fish, avoiding bad weather and timing their trips with market demand. IFQs also reduce the wasteful practice of throwing dead fish overboard to comply with regulations.

“With the conservation gains seen in the commercial red snapper fishery in just a few years, we are optimistic that rebuilding is getting underway and the payoff might be a rising catch limit in the near future,” said Pam Baker, Senior Policy Advisor for Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, Texas. “The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council is on the right track by considering IFQs and other catch share plans for many of its other commercial and sport fisheries that are in dire need of better management.”

The report’s conservation highlights include:

  • Overfishing is being reversed in the commercial fishery.
  • Fishermen have caught less than their allotment by 2.5-4.0 percent in the past two years.
  • Fishermen cut their ratio of wasted fish to fish taken to the docks by almost 70 percent. (Before the IFQ, for every fish a fisherman kept, he threw one back dead. Now, fishermen only throw one back for every three to four that they keep.)

The report’s economic highlights include:

  • Long season closures and extreme market swings have been eliminated.
  • With year-round fishing, fishermen bring high quality fish to the dock when consumer demand is high, making their businesses more profitable.
  • The price fishermen pay for quota, the long-term privilege to catch red snapper, rose by 37 percent, reflecting optimism for a healthy fishery and a commitment to conservation.

“From a conservationist’s view, the commercial red snapper IFQ program is an excellent model for improving management of fisheries suffering from overfishing and economic hardship,” Baker said.

The NMFS report concludes that the commercial red snapper fishery is on the right track, and it identifies a few ways that it can be improved. For example, the mislabeling of fish needs to be stopped, and better ways are needed to count dead fish that some vessels continue to throw overboard, especially off of the Florida peninsula coast.

The report can be accessed online: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/pdfs/2008RedSnapperIFQAnnualReport1.pdf