Opponents of catch shares misleading public

Published: Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 03:43 PM.

Catch shares, or Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) have been used successfully all over the world for many years. They are simply a means of distributing the commercial quota of fish, or other marine species, set by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Instead of fishermen racing to catch the total commercial quota, it is divided amongst the fishermen who participate in the catch share program.

An individual commercial fisherman owns a percentage of the total quota in the form of a share, which allocates the amount of pounds he can catch each year. When a fishermen reaches his individual quota, he must either stop fishing, lease allocation from other commercial fishermen, or buy more shares.

A few fishing organizations are criticizing catch shares for their own misguided reasons. Bill Kelly, with the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association (FKCFA), wrote an article in which he says he is against catch shares. This is ironic because his organization represents lobster fishermen who participate in one of the largest catch share programs in the Gulf. Access to the lobster catch share program could not be more limited.

To harvest lobsters you must purchase a federal permit, traps, plus trap tags from other fishermen for as much as $100 per tag. You would have to purchase around 3,000 tags in order to make a decent living. At $300,000, plus a boat and traps, it is almost impossible for a small fisherman to enter the lobster catch share program. Saying the Florida lobster fishery is not a catch share program, is like saying a street is not a road.

In the grouper/snapper catch share programs you can purchase grouper allocation for 60 to 70 cents per pound in order to harvest a grouper worth $3.50 per pound. New entrants and the smallest fishermen are more than willing to lease grouper allocation in order to make a profit year round. That is good news for the commercial fishing industry and the American consumer can now enjoy fresh Gulf grouper all year.

Along with 13 other long-time commercial fishermen, I was appointed to the Grouper/Tilefish IFQ Advisory Panel by the Gulf Council. We spent more than three years carefully designing the Gulf grouper catch share program. It was then voted in by substantial participants in the commercial fishery by more than an 80 percent margin. The grouper catch share program has saved many commercial fishermen from going out of business. The old system of an open fishery with “derby fishing” occurring before the commercial quota was filled and the season closed down, was unmanageable. No one could make a living tied to the dock.

Under the Gulf catch share programs, the grouper/snapper fishery is among the most accountable fisheries in the world. Before he leaves the dock, a fisherman must notify NOAA of his departure and what he intends to fish for. NOAA then begins tracking his vessel through a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). If the fisherman ventures into a closed area, NOAA sees it on the computer and mails the owner a fine, somewhere in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Before the fisherman returns, he must make a three-hour call-in to NOAA so they can have an enforcement officer waiting on him when he reaches the dock. Under NOAA's observation, every pound of fish that comes off the boat is weighed and subtracted from that fisherman's individual quota. It is a 100 percent accountable system, and neither the grouper nor red snapper commercial quota has been exceeded since the program's inception in 2007. Some did not like it at first, but now commercial fishermen in the Gulf realize how important catch share programs are, and how their accountability ensures a healthy fishery for them and American consumers

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