You may not know it, but there is a fight happening right now in the Gulf of Mexico and in Congress that could determine whether your favorite Gulf fish, like red snapper, will remain a regular menu item and seafood case staple. Fights like this have happened before, with redfish and other species moving from shared to only recreationally caught, but this time things are different.
How we divide the amount or allocation of fish between commercial fishermen, charter/for-hire captains and private recreational anglers has long been a tough topic to tackle. We believe that the question of “who gets the fish?” is one of fairness. Recreational anglers deserve access; but so do the seafood-loving public when they visit their favorite restaurant or grocery story.
Here are the facts. Recreational fishermen currently take home 70% of the Gulf’s most popular fish, leaving 30% to be sold in restaurants and grocery stores. Recreational anglers land an overwhelming majority of species like amberjack, cobia, red drum, king mackerel, spotted seatrout, and triggerfish. For Gulf red snapper, the division of quota between the recreational and seafood sectors is more balanced: roughly 50-50.
(Sources: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council 2018 Annual Catch Limits, MRIP Recreational Landings Database, SERO Recreational and Commercial Landings Summaries, NOAA Southeast Region Headboat Survey, Louisiana Recreational Creel Survey)
*Cobia and Spanish mackerel are managed by shared annual catch limits. Allocations were calculated by landings for 2016 for those species.
**No federal fishery. States allow limited commercial harvest for grandfathered permits.
***The Red snapper recreational fishery is separated by sector. Total includes the private angler, charter, and headboat sectors.
Landings numbers are from data available as of June 2018 and do not include recalibrated MRIP data released in July.
Totals missing potentially significant recreational landings from Texas for Red drum, Spotted seatrout, King mackerel, and Spanish mackerel.
Access to Gulf Seafood is in Jeopardy
While the vast majority of recreational fishermen are responsible and want to share the resource, lobbyists claiming to represent them are working around the clock to change the allocation of fish like red snapper. These efforts take direct aim at coastal businesses and livelihoods across the Gulf – and a way of life that goes back generations. If they succeed, sustainable Gulf seafood like red snapper could disappear from menus and dinner tables across the country.
Proposals in Congress and new efforts at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council could make this threat a reality. Two bills, H.R. 200 and S. 1520, would mandate periodically reviewing allocation of almost three dozen species in the South Atlantic and Gulf, which would exacerbate tensions between sectors and consume endless time and energy.
In fact, this question often gets far more attention than other issues vital to Gulf fisheries, such as fish biology, enforcement of regulations and habitat conservation. And too often, taking fish from one group for the benefit of another is falsely offered as a solution to other problems. In this case, it is being offered as a false promise to fix the broken way we manage recreational fishing.
Reallocation will not fix the broken recreational management system
The irony is that while reallocation could do profound harm to the Gulf seafood industry, it will do little to increase fishing opportunities for recreational anglers. Meaningful change will only come through improved data collection and reformed management to bring recreational fisheries into the 21st Century.
Fortunately, there are signs of progress. For example, Louisiana has invested in much-improved data collection that will allow fishing for red snapper throughout much of the summer with the same quota. Better science and accountability can result in increased private angler access or satisfaction without harming other sectors or the resource, a promise reallocation can’t make. After all, as red snapper has rebounded, the amount of fish allocated for fishing — including for recreational fishermen — has nearly tripled over the last ten years, and the broken management system still led to shortened seasons and recreational quota overages.
Anglers deserve a better management system that gives them more flexible access to the red snapper fishery. That’s why the Share the Gulf Coalition – which includes private anglers, for-hire fishermen, commercial fishermen, chefs, restaurateurs, hospitality associations, and environmental groups – opposes efforts to forcibly reallocate fish in favor of spending our time on more promising proposals like pilot projects to test state-based management of private angler fishing of red snapper.
We Need Your Help!
The Share the Gulf Coalition is working with Members of Congress, Gulf Governors, the Gulf Council, and others to find solutions that can work for everyone. We will encourage decision-makers to keep sustainably caught Gulf seafood on the table for the millions of Americans who don’t fish or own their own boats. We will also advocate for fixing the underlying problems that have led to shortened seasons so anglers get more flexible access to the fishery.
Here’s what you can do: