One-Year Review Shows Major Success of Catch Share Program as Model for Recovering Fisheries

December 27, 2007
For Immediate Release                                      
For more information contact:
Katharine Burnham, 202-415-5742
Pam Baker, 361-510-5743

(Washington, DC – December 27, 2007) One year after an innovative management system was applied to the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, preliminary data shows that wasteful discards are down by at least 50 percent, the fishing season has tripled, and the value of the fish at market has increased.
“The rules we worked under for a decade weren’t working,” according to Captain Donny Waters, a 20-year veteran of the red snapper fishery. “Long season closures coupled with size restrictions and daily catch limits were intended to save fish, but instead they forced fishermen to discard huge numbers of dead fish. The ‘race-for-fish’ cut my profits, put my life at risk and wasted so many fish that we couldn’t rebuild the stock.”
These changes have come from the implementation of a catch share program called an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) system. Regulators allocate a portion of the catch to each fisherman as a secure fishing privilege. Fishermen then have the flexibility to buy and sell shares with other boats, and catch their allotment any time during the year when weather and market conditions are right. In turn, they comply with strict high-tech, real-time accountability requirements that closely track fish and fishing activities.
“This is an impressive victory for the Gulf fishermen who worked to build support for the catch share system. The success of this program proves that when fishermen have an economic stake in the health of a fishery, big improvements are possible,” said David Festa, Oceans Program Director for Environmental Defense.
With implementation of an IFQ system, the red snapper fishing season transitioned from a 10- day–per-month fishing season to unrestricted days at sea. This flexibility now allows fishermen to catch and sell red snapper throughout the year, resulting in safer and more sustainable fishing practices, a stabilized market, and a higher price for the commodity. 
In addition, a size limit was lowered to reduce the waste of fish. By decreasing the size from 15 inches to 13 inches, fishermen can now keep and sell fish that they, under the old system, would have thrown back into the ocean dying or dead. The practice of discarding unwanted fish is a major contributor to the overfishing problem in the U.S. and around the world.  A reduction in discards was shown in a recent report by Environmental Defense to be a constant where catch shares systems are adopted. 
“Before IFQs, regulations forced us to throw away huge numbers of fish that were smaller than the limit or caught out of season,” said Waters. “Now I can harvest and account for the fish I catch while getting record prices.”  
The red snapper catch share program is the first such program enacted for a major fishery in the United States since Congress put new rules in place to end overfishing. The success of the program bodes well for similar programs proposed in New England, the Gulf, and the West Coast.
“The positive change in the health of the red snapper fishery over the past year should be welcomed by other fishermen and regulators currently reviewing whether a catch share system is right for additional troubled species,” said Festa.
In addition to the environmental successes of the red snapper catch share, consumers also benefit from the new system. Now that boats are delivering a constant supply of product, consumers can buy healthy, local, fresh seafood year round.
Ed note: To arrange an interview with participating fishermen please call contacts above.

Environmental Defense, a leading national organization, represents more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems.