Catch shares schemes rise from the dead in South Atlantic

Outlandish catch share proposal draws heated opposition from anglers

SAVANNAH, GA – A request by a commercial fishing group for a “voluntary” catch share program in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery raised hackles at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting this week. Aside from concerns about the legality of the concept and outrage over the details of the proposal, recreational anglers are questioning why the Council continues to explore catch share programs a year after it voted to terminate all work related to catch share development.

“Labeling it ‘voluntary’ violates even their own definition of catch shares, so what you are left to assume is that this is nothing more than an attempt by catch share proponents to circumvent the will of the Council and keep these unwanted programs in the discussion,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association’s Government Relations Committee. “Beyond that, the details of this particular proposal should offend everyone, whether they fish or not.”

The South Atlantic Fisherman’s Association (SAFA) made a presentation to the Council’s Catch Shares Committee on a Voluntary Individual Fishing Quota Program for several species in the snapper grouper complex, quite possibly the worst candidate for such a program. This mixed-species fishery has substantial recreational landings and 600-plus permitted commercial fishermen, yet only about 50 fishermen have signed up for the program. In contrast, catch share proponents have tried for years to implement a program in the golden crab fishery, which is purely commercial with roughly half a dozen commercial boats involved, and have not been successful.

Making the proposal even more inappropriate, SAFA’s presentation included a request for the Council to conduct an analysis to determine which of the current regulations, including conservation measures such as size limits, trip limits, area closures and spawning season closures, could be reduced or eliminated for the “voluntary” catch share program. SAFA also asked that the federal government purchase the vessel monitoring system required of commercial vessels and pay for the installation on boats involved in the program.

“Apparently, it is not enough that proponents of catch shares want to hand these commercial fishermen a windfall, but they also want them to be exempted from the conservation measures in place for these species and make the rest of us pay for their equipment, too,” said Brewer. “Exactly what is the benefit of a program like that and why does it merit a presentation to this Council?”

Incredibly, the Catch Share Committee voted 4-4 on a motion to start an amendment to institute the “voluntary” catch share program. The chairman of the committee ultimately voted against it so the motion failed, but the committee did approve a motion to do an analysis of the “voluntary” catch share program.  

 “It is unbelievable and frightening that such a proposal came to life and was within one vote of passing that committee,” said Brewer. “It was just a year ago that the Council voted to dismiss these programs and yet here is one of the worst ones I’ve ever seen somehow being kept alive in this forum. We urge the Council to reject this proposal outright and stand by its vote to terminate any work that seeks to subsidize the most destructive and unprofitable sectors of our fisheries.”

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