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April 08, 2011

Despite CCA opposition, advisory panel takes step toward catch shares

CCA is opposed to both recreational catch shares and to splitting the recreational sector

HOUSTON, TX - Following its meeting March 28-29 in Tampa, Florida, the Limited Access Privilege Program (LAPP) Advisory Panel to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is presenting a suite of options at the Gulf Council meeting next week to aid the struggling charter/for-hire industry and seem to lead inevitably to catch shares and sector separation in the recreational sector.

Discussions at the two-day AP meeting included a "days-at-sea" program for the charter for hire fleet and the allocation of an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program for the 63-boat headboat fleet in the red snapper fishery. Each proposal would presumably reserve part of the recreational allocation for such boats and allow them to fish it throughout the year. The LAPP AP was originally tasked with looking at IFQ/catch share programs for the "other species in the reef fish management unit" across sectors, but was subsequently tasked with looking into pilot programs to give the for-hire fleet flexibility in red snapper fishing days in an effort to help the depressed economic status of the fleet.

"Development of these proposals was a fast, unexpected turn of events," said Bill Bird, a CCA board member and panel participant. "It seemed to me that everyone in that room, including Council staff, knew where they wanted this to go before the meeting even started, despite CCA's objections. Most of the details remain undefined, but it is difficult to understand how either program would work unless those boats get a specific allocation of the recreational quota. You can call it anything you want, but it looks and sounds like the first steps to sector separation and catch shares."

From the start, CCA was concerned at the prospect of the AP turning to catch shares as a tool and it is clear that those concerns were well-founded.

"The assignment of the catch share approach to a pilot headboat  program was out of left field and spun out of control at the meeting very quickly, even though no headboat operators are represented on the LAPP AP," said Troy Williamson, CCA board member and panel participant. "It was a runaway train and CCA will certainly make the case at the Council to stop it in its tracks."

CCA is opposed to both recreational catch shares and to splitting the recreational sector between private boat anglers and the charter/for-hire fleet. "Sector separation," as it is known, and catch shares are both unpopular concepts with the vast majority of the recreational angling community.

"The days-at-sea program is being sold as a benefit for conservation, data collection and management, but all of those things can be achieved by means other than catch shares and sector separation," said Bird. "Additionally, the Council could help the entire recreational sector and not just the charter and headboat operators by reallocating the red snapper fishery properly in the first place. In fact, the Council just decided at its February 2011 meeting to finally begin reviewing red snapper allocation and the existing red snapper IFQ program. To make this recommendation before that review has even started doesn't make a lot of sense."