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February 01, 2010

Re-slicing the Pie

In the ongoing battles over fishery-resource allocation, I've recently noticed similar though independent movements in several states and regions...

With many fisheries issues so regional in nature and often dealing with a diversity of species and concerns, larger trends may go unobserved until those who track such issues from a national perspective take notice.

In the ongoing battles over fishery-resource allocation, I've recently noticed similar though independent movements in several states and regions to protect recreational fisheries and fish stocks by conferring game-fish-only status on certain species.

Doing that, of course, makes it easy to slice the relative-allocation pie between the two main user groups: Recreational fishermen get 100 percent of the allocated fish; commercial fishermen get zero percent.

The absolute allocation may remain complicated, though. In many cases, the very sport-fishermen's groups calling for game-fish status also want to allocate fewer fish to themselves via stricter regulations such as reduced bag limits or    seasons, or narrow slot limits.

Such efforts help dispel any argument that anglers are motivated simply by greed. Granted, some anglers' groups have shown an inclination to put increasing their harvest ahead of the health of the resource, but they're in the minority. Many sport fishermen are willing to accept legitimate short-term  sacrifice to ensure strong fish stocks down the road.

For example, legislation proposed by the group Stripers Forever ( and recently introduced into the Massachusetts House of Representatives would end all commercial harvest of wild striped bass in state waters and manage the resource strictly as a recreational resource. (If that becomes law, Massachusetts would join other Atlantic coastal states that manage striped bass strictly as game fish - Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey and South Carolina.)

The Massachusetts bill would offer still more protection to the state's stripers by slashing the recreational bag limit from two fish to just one per day and instituting a restrictive slot limit.

At the same time, by the way, a Connecticut legislator has introduced a bill into the state House that would "declare striped bass a predatory fish that is harmful to other species and ... allow commercial fishing to take a limited number of striped bass. ?" Anglers: memo to ourselves - the battle never ends.

Then there's the fight to decommercialize Georgia's "official saltwater fish," the red drum. Both CCA Georgia ( and Georgia Redfish ( began campaigning late last year to manage the popular redfish for recreational use only and prohibit its sale.

The latest and most sweeping challenge to the management of a species for  commercial harvest reared its very controversial head in late January. The Coastal Conservation Association ( presented to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC; a major study by the Gentner Consulting Group (; Allocation Analysis of the Gulf of Mexico Gag and Red Grouper Fisheries) that makes a strong dollars-and-cents case for managing these popular Gulf species for recreational use.

In this economic study, Brad Gentner - who ran the National Marine Fisheries Service recreational-economics data-    collection program for eight years -  concludes that allocating these Gulf grouper 100 percent to the recreational sector would "maximize economic value to society."

Currently, gag grouper are managed with slightly more going to the recreational sector and red grouper with a much larger proportion allocated to the commercial fishery. Gentner's analysis found that even though about 40 percent of gag grouper go to the commercial sector, that fishery generates just $16 million and   322 jobs, while the recreational gag fishery generates $60.8 million and supports 1,513 jobs.

For red grouper, the dichotomy is even more dramatic. While the split provides the commercial sector nearly 85 percent of red grouper harvest, that fishery manages to yield $49 million and 988 jobs. With just more than 15 percent of the  allocation, the recreational fishery brings in about $35 million and 500 jobs.

The study suggests that seafood consumers wouldn't suffer from Gulf grouper decommercialization since imported grouper and other species could make up the difference. (It's worth noting that the GMFMC has also approved plans to develop major aquaculture facilities in the Gulf.)

Some in the recreational-fishing community fear the study may have come too late, in that the council at its last (late January) meeting appeared to be heavily committed to developing a quota-based system for grouper much as it has already done for red snapper. Once locked into that plan, the council might have no chance to consider the consequences of such an allocation in light of this new information. I think that would be unfortunate, unfair and an unpardonable error considering what's at stake.

The GMFMC needs to put the brakes on its effort to initiate a quota-based commercial grouper allocation until it has had time to assess the Gentner study conclusions.