Several years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration promised anglers it would review the way in which many fisheries are being allocated among user groups (notably commercial and recreational anglers). Recreational-fishing interests maintained that current allocations, often created decades ago, have remained locked in place even while the reality of the resource and its uses/values have changed dramatically.
That allocation review has not happened, but U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is determined to see that it does. Last week, he notified the Secretary of Commerce that he would hold up the confirmation of the acting administrator of NOAA until the agency finally took action on fishery allocations.
This week, Vitter received assurances from acting administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, that NOAA would follow through on the request for a review of outdated fishery allocations currently in place. He also requested that NOAA direct the regional fishery management councils to implement the broad allocations provisions of its own national catch-share policy.
In response, Sullivan reiterated NOAA’s continued support of the federal policy stating that “harvest allocations to fishery sectors should be revisited on a regular basis.”
“We commend Senator Vitter for stepping up to the plate on behalf of recreational fishermen and highlighting the need for NOAA to adhere to its own policy,” says Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “Using data from the 1980s to dictate allocation in 2013 just doesn’t make sense. Modern economic, demographic and conservation criteria should be examined regularly to make these determinations.”
Most government agencies are well familiar with the concept of assessing and allocating public resources in the timber, energy and telecommunication industries, for example. Unlike the complex systems used to evaluate those resources, however, NOAA Fisheries has relied on simple past catch history to set allocations between the commercial and recreational sectors. The process involves selecting a snapshot in history, usually a span of three years or so, and basing allocations on how much the commercial sector caught over that time frame versus how much the recreational sector caught. The snapshot used for red snapper is from the 1980s, around the time when shrimp trawl bycatch of juvenile red snapper caused the recreational snapper harvest to decline by 87 percent from 1980-1984. The allocation of 51 percent commercial to 49 percent recreational that was produced by that process still stands today. Vitter ensured that the Gulf Council will at last bring red snapper reallocation efforts to the table for its February meeting, but without a formal allocation process, the ultimate outcome is still unclear and will bear continued monitoring.
“Anglers throughout the country owe a debt of gratitude to Senator David Vitter for his common sense approach to fisheries management policy,” says Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “As a result of his efforts, NOAA is now focused on the issue and the process appears to be moving in the right direction - although we will all need to stay actively involved in the process.”
The Secretary of Commerce is legally obligated, along with the Fishery Management Councils, to establish procedures to ensure a fair and equitable allocation of fish harvest for Gulf red snapper – and every other federally managed fishery. Three years ago, the Obama Administration committed to review guidelines for implementing fair and equitable allocations. While some preliminary work has been done to develop options for moving forward with allocation reviews, so far, neither NOAA nor any Council has produced such guidelines.
“Thanks to Senator David Vitter we can now look with a hopeful eye to the February 2014 meeting of the Gulf Council and hope that federal managers do their job and finally address allocation,” says Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Senator Vitter’s commitment to this issue appears to have finally moved the needle in the direction of government responsibility.”