The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is holding public hearings on Amendment 40 — Sector Separation, which represents the first step to creating a red snapper charter/for-hire catch share program.
Proponents of Amendment 40 carefully deny that catch shares are the inevitable next step, but it is naive to believe otherwise.
After all, the Gulf Council already has a charter/for-hire catch share advisory panel that published a scoping document in June.
Catch share programs literally give a public fisheries resource to a business to use as its own, for free.
Under disastrous federal management, some charter/for-hire operators have seized upon sector separation, and eventually catch shares, as a way to escape ridiculous nine-day red snapper seasons (or worse).
But it’s a false promise.
Catch shares have two main goals: End the race to fish, and protect stocks. The race to fish is ended by allowing year-round, or at least greatly extended, fishing seasons because fishermen are gifted a personal share of the catch.
Charter/for-hire captains would understandably love the flexibility to fish for red snapper all year.
But, the dirty secret is the race to fish is largely ended by decimating the industry.
Across the 15 catch shares that exist in the U.S., 3,700 boats have left those fisheries, and 18,000 jobs are gone.
Make no mistake; this is exactly what catch shares are designed to do.
These programs are specifically designed to create winners and losers.
Generally, small, mom-and-pop operations get pushed out and quota tends to be snatched up by larger corporations.
In the Gulf commercial red snapper fishery, there were roughly 1,800 boats when catch shares were implemented in 2007; there are less than 400 today.
Arguably, this needs to happen in many commercial fisheries as there are too many boats catching too few fish.
However, opportunity and access are what drive recreational value, and reducing the number of boats will raise prices and reduce access; both bad for the public owners of the resource and consumers of these trips.
Regarding stock protection, out of 47 studies on catch share programs, 24 have found no environmental benefit or found a negative impact.
Of the 23 studies that found a positive benefit, 11 of those were funded by pro-catch share environmental groups with a stated goal of limiting access and reducing recreational opportunity.
The same holds for red snapper.
Red snapper has largely recovered because shrimp trawl bycatch was greatly reduced because of lawsuits (brought by recreational anglers) and natural disasters.
The population of red snapper we are seeing today is tied to massive reductions in the number of juvenile red snapper killed as shrimp trawl bycatch.
In the presence of a booming red snapper population, the idea of sector separation is misguided.
The recreational sector would be far better served by staying united and working for a management system that enhances the entire sector instead of destroying the most valuable sector in the fishery.
Ted Venker is conservation director for the Coastal Conservation Association.