Help stop "catch shares" and more in the South Atlantic

Your action is needed today to stop the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council from approving “catch share” programs, expensive vessel electronic monitoring, and more closed fishing areas for use in the snapper-grouper fishery!

The SAFMC has opened the comment period for its snapper-grouper Vision Project, a strategic plan for how the fishery will be managed in the future that will have serious consequences for all snapper-grouper fishermen, dealers, wholesalers, and consumers.

Last year, the SAFMC promised that the Vision Project would be “stakeholder-driven” (click here, third paragraph) and conducted 26 “port meetings” that were supposed to seek stakeholder input into the project. These meetings produced overwhelming input from stakeholders, like you, that catch shares, vessel monitoring systems, and more closed areas like MPAs, are vehemently opposed, and should not be in the plan.

Breaking its promise of a stakeholder-driven plan, the SAFMC has now included those overwhelmingly opposed measures in its Vision Project plan!

Click here for the Vision management plan to see for yourself.

Having a “vision” or long-term strategic plan for the management of the snapper-grouper fishery is a good idea, but the plan must be driven by stakeholders and not the fishery council and special interest groups.

Catch share programs, electronic monitoring, and MPAs are not required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act; their use by fishery councils is entirely optional and has little to do with fishery sustainability.

The SAFMC Vision plan includes catch share programs for both commercial and for-hire fishermen.

Study after study have shown that catch share programs, which take a fishermen’s landings and converts them into “shares” of a fishery that can be bought and sold like a commodity on Wall Street, provide no biological benefit to fisheries and hurt fishing communities by destroying jobs.

Just as troubling, the phrase “catch shares” is nowhere to be found in the Vision plan. Instead, the SAFMC has decided to be less than direct with stakeholders by using code-speak for catch shares in the plan such as “sector share management system,” “community-based quota management,” “individual quota management system,” “individual quota programs,” “sector share programs/cooperatives,” “individual quotas,” and “allocations by permit.”

We just can’t let this happen!

In 2013, the SAFMC had to withdraw its proposal for expensive and burdensome vessel monitoring systems in the commercial snapper-grouper fishery after overwhelming opposition from fishermen: over 700 written comments against, with just 10 in favor, the most comments on any SAFMC proposal in recent history.

Yet, now the SAFMC has included “electronic monitoring methods for all sectors” in its Vision plan.

Not only did the SAFMC put additional Marine Protected Areas and Special Management Zones in its Vision plan, they are considering “additional restrictions” on existing closed areas.

This with hundreds of square miles currently under consideration for snapper-grouper spawning SMZs, nearly 700 square miles of existing deep-water MPAs in which bottom fishing is prohibited, and nearly 24,000 square miles of existing deep-water coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in which bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines.

And there is no plan in place to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of these existing closed areas, much less any new areas.

I urge you to take these actions to stop catch shares, vessel electronic monitoring, and more MPAs in our fishery before it’s too late:

  1. Tell the SAFMC today why you oppose their Vision plan by emailing comments to: amber.vonharten@safmc.net. Ask other fishermen, dealers, wholesalers and consumers to send in comments.
  2. Attend the public hearing/listening station in your area and speak out against the Vision plan. Bring other stakeholders with you. Click here for a list of the locations.
  3. Personally contact the SAFMC members from your state that represent you and tell them why you oppose the Vision plan. Click here for the contact information.

Too many times fishermen and other stakeholders have been guilty of not taking the time to speak out on proposed fishery regulations, and then complaining after the fact.

Not this time!

With your help, we can win the fight against this plan. Thank you in advance for your help on this important issue!

Wayne Mershon
President
Sustainablefishing.org

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues and donations to operate. Please consider sending a donation to help us continue to get the word out to fishermen and others. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 2398, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576 or credit card donations can be made online at by clicking here. Thank You!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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A victory for fishing interests and science-based management

On Monday night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bill, the law that governs the management of federal offshore fisheries, on a 225-152 vote.

Our sincere thanks go to the Representatives who voted for legislation that provides regional fishery management councils with a more practical, science-based timeframe for ending overfishing and establishing fishery rebuilding plans than the existing arbitrary, one-size fits all deadlines.

Click here to see how your Representative voted.

The legislation will increase the timeframe for regional fishery management councils to end overfishing from 2 to 3 years and give the councils the flexibility to institute fishery rebuilding plans based on a stock’s biology, not on the existing arbitrary 10 year deadline.

The language in the bill is in response to a congressionally requested report from the National Research Council released last September that said more flexibility in the length of fishery rebuilding plans is needed.

The legislation substitutes “depleted” for “overfished” in an acknowledgement that the decline of stocks can be attributed to environmental factors beyond fishing effort.

The legislation also allows consideration of ecosystem changes and the economic needs of fishing communities in establishing annual catch limits, and requires referendum approval of any proposed “catch share” programs in the South Atlantic region by a majority of the affected fishery permit holders.

The importance of the catch share referendum requirement rises as the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council continues to include catch share programs, which privatize fisheries, for the commercial and for-hire sectors in their Vision Blueprint for the snapper-grouper fishery, despite overwhelming stakeholder opposition.

Catch share programs tend to benefit large corporate fleets that can buy up shares and hurt small fishermen who cannot. Studies have shown that catch share programs hurt fishing communities by destroying jobs and don’t provide any biological benefit to fisheries.

The House vote is a great victory for commercial and recreational fishing interests and science-based fishery management, but our challenge now is to get a companion bill through the Senate and then past the Obama administration’s threatened veto.

Thank you for your support!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Sustainablefishing.org

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues and donations to operate. We need your financial support to continue an effective advocacy campaign for fishing interests! Please join or donate $10, $15, $25, $35, $50 or more today by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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Media Coverage

It’s always good when your point of view earns substantial media coverage.

I wanted to make you aware of some recent media coverage involving the Council for Sustainable Fishing’s efforts on behalf of commercial and recreational fishermen.

This opinion piece by Executive Director Tom Swatzel about NOAA wasting $160 million pushing catch share programs when many species lack basic stock assessments to determine sustainable fishing levels was published in a number of southeastern newspapers and disseminated nationally by the National Fishermen and Saving Seafood:

Don’t waste NOAA funds on catch share boondoggle
The St. Augustine Record

Our efforts to keep more proposed South Atlantic closed fishing areas to a minimum is covered in these news articles:

Outdoors column: Georgetown Hole under consideration for SMZ
Myrtle Beach Sun News

‘The Hole’ a spawning sanctuary for big fish?
Charleston Post & Courier

A news story earlier this year referred to the Council for Sustainable Fishing as a “watchdog group for fishermen from North Carolina to the Florida Keys”:

Council based in Inlet is watchdog for fishermen
Georgetown South Strand News

The effort to get this kind of media coverage requires substantial funding, as do the other components of an effective advocacy campaign for fishing interests, such as a website, direct mail, legislative monitoring and travel, among other expenses. This is where we need your help today.

Please join or donate today so we can continue to fund an effective campaign for fishing interests and against ‘boondoggles’ like catch shares and other unnecessary and unjustifiable regulations that have no bearing on fishery sustainability.

If you’re not already a member, please join or donate $10, $15, $25, $35, $50 or more today by clicking here.

If you’re a member, please consider a higher membership or a donation.

The CFSF is non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues and donations to operate. Your financial support is vital and needed today!

Thank you in advance!

Wayne Mershon
President
Sustainablefishing.org


Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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In the dark about sustainable fishing levels

Did you know that offshore fish stocks that are either experiencing overfishing (the annual rate of catch is too high) or are overfished (the population size is too small) are at all-time lows?

According to the latest NOAA Status of U.S. Fish Stocks report, of the 308 fish stocks managed by the eight regional fishery management councils with a known stock status, 92 percent are not experiencing overfishing and 84 percent are not overfished. In the South Atlantic region (the Carolinas, Georgia and east Florida), out of all the stocks managed, only six species (all in the snapper-grouper fishery) are either experiencing overfishing or are overfished.

While all of this is good news, there is some bad news concerning fish stocks.

Of the 469 stocks managed by the fishery councils, the status of 161 stocks is unknown for lack of stock assessments, the basic scientific tool used to determine sustainable fishing levels. In the South Atlantic, of the 59 species in the snapper-grouper fishery, the stock status is unknown for 76 percent or 45 species. Additionally, the status is unknown for important top-water species like dolphin (mahi) and wahoo.

For stocks with an unknown status, the only way to set an annual catch limit is to use historical landings, which has no real scientific basis, and can unfairly penalize fishermen with artificially low catch limits.

Adequate resources are not being devoted by NOAA into stock assessments. Over the last 10 years in the South Atlantic, an average of only three stock assessments have been conducted per year.

Not only have many stocks never been assessed, assessments of economically important species can be too far in between. An example is black sea bass, which was in a rebuilding plan and went six years between assessments. Many believe the black sea bass stock was rebuilt early, but because assessments are required to change the annual catch limits, fishermen could not take advantage of the rebuilt stock for lack of a timely assessment and had to suffer through some very short seasons. Other examples are vermilion snapper and king mackerel, which have had five years between assessments.

How can more NOAA financial resources be devoted to stock assessments?

NOAA has spent about $160 million over the last six years pushing its National Catch Share Policy in an effort to privatize fisheries by giving commercial fishermen “shares” in fisheries based on catch history, which can be bought and sold like shares on Wall Street.

Catch share programs tend to benefit large corporate fleets that can buy up shares and hurt small fishermen who cannot. Studies have shown that catch share programs hurt fishing communities by destroying jobs and don’t provide any biological benefit to fisheries. A recent National Fisherman editorial entitled “A five-year failure” says the New England groundfish catch share program “may actually be damaging the ecosystem.”

Proposals for catch share programs in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery have been met with overwhelming opposition by recreational and commercial fishermen.

It’s time for Congress to ensure that NOAA funds being spent in a misguided effort to privatize our fisheries through catch share programs -- something that has nothing to do with improving fishery sustainability -- are reallocated to better assessing the sustainability of our fish stocks, so fishery managers and fishermen are not in the dark about sustainable fishing levels.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Sustainablefishing.org


P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues and donations to operate. We need your financial support! If you are not already a member, please join or donate $10, $15, $25, $35, $50 or more today by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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SUN NEWS Outdoors column: Georgetown Hole under consideration for SMZ

BY Gregg Holshouser

Despite approximately 700 square miles of Marine Protected Areas already in place off the Southeast Coast and a four-month Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure that occurs each January through April, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering closing more bottom areas to snapper-grouper fishing.

Snapper Grouper Amendment 36 is intended to identify important areas of spawning habitat for snapper grouper species, including deep-water speckled hind and warsaw grouper, that can be designated for protection to enhance spawning and increase recruitment.

Among the sites under consideration for a Special Management Zone (SMZ) is the famed Georgetown Hole, a very popular bottom spot for commercial and recreational anglers. Both bottom fishing and trolling for sport fish occur in the vicinity of the Georgetown Hole, located about 55 miles southeast of the Winyah Bay jetties.

Currently, according to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), Spawning SMZs would only consider prohibiting fishing for and/or possession of snapper grouper species.

In a public hearing summary of the details of Amendment 36, SAFMC staff member Gregg Waugh noted that snapper grouper species such as warsaw, snowy, gag, scamp, yellowedge and mutton snapper were among “fish that were worked up in a spawning condition” at the Georgetown Hole during research.

Local fishermen were largely against the proposal at a SAFMC public hearing Monday in Little River.

The Council for Sustainable Fishing, based out of Murrells Inlet, is pushing for any new SMZs to be minimized.

“Given the significant amount of existing protected areas for deep-water snapper grouper, it is important that the spawning Special Management Zones under consideration in Amendment 36 be kept as small as possible to reduce further adverse economic impacts on fishermen and coastal businesses,” said Tom Swatzel, Executive Director of the Council for Sustainable Fishing in a letter to SAFMC Chairman Ben Hartig.

“These SMZs should be as small as possible and not turn into MPAs by another name. We ask that the fishery council approve as preferred alternatives or sub-alternatives the SMZs that are smallest in size off each state.”

In the letter, Swatzel, a former member of the SAFMC, also noted that in addition to the MPAs “there are nearly 24,000 square miles of deep-water coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in the South Atlantic where bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines.”

Murrells Inlet’s Wayne Mershon, owner of Kenyon Seafood, is President of the Council for Sustainable Fishing’s Board of Directors and a member of the SAFMC’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel.

Mershon made a motion that was unanimously approved by the advisory panel recommending the SAFMC consider expanding the existing northern South Carolina MPA into deeper water as a Spawning SMZ in lieu of establishing a SMZ in the vicinity of the Georgetown Hole.

While the first round of public hearings on Amendment 36 has been completed, the SAFMC will continue accepting public comments via e-mail, fax or mail through 5 p.m. on May 1. However, the SAFMC is expected to schedule another round of public hearings in July and/or August.

The SAFMC will review public hearing comments and revise the amendment at its September meeting at Hilton Head Island. The SAFMC’s public hearing document states final approval of the amendment could shift to the December meeting at Atlantic Beach, N.C.

Public comments can be submitted via:

▪ E-Mail: mike.collins@safmc.net (Please reference the name of the amendment you are submitting comments about in the subject line of your e-mail).

▪ Fax: (843) 769-4520.

▪ Mail: Send written comments to Robert Mahood, Executive Director, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405.

Click here for the column. 

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More areas proposed closed to fishing

This week, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will begin seeking public input on Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan Amendment 36, which would establish spawning Special Management Zones or SMZs off the Carolinas, Georgia, and east Florida that would prohibit bottom fishing to protect deep-water snapper-grouper species.

While the idea of protecting spawning snapper and grouper is worthy, we have concerns about the establishment of these SMZs.

In the South Atlantic, there are already nearly 700 square miles of deep-water Marine Protected Areas or MPAs in which bottom fishing is prohibited and nearly 24,000 square miles of deep-water coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern or HAPCs where bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines.

The MPAs have been in place for six years without a plan, much less the funding, to evaluate their effectiveness in protecting snapper-grouper species, which is troubling.

Given the significant amount of existing protected areas for deep-water snapper and grouper, it is important that the spawning SMZs under consideration in Amendment 36 be kept as small as possible to reduce further adverse economic impacts on fishermen and coastal businesses.

The proposed SMZs must have a workable evaluation plan that can be funded and fishing for top-water species must be allowed.

Additionally, if you fish off South Carolina, the fishery council’s Snapper-Grouper Advisory Panel this month recommended that the fishery council consider an expansion of the existing northern SC MPA into deeper water as an alternative to a proposed spawning SMZ in the popular Georgetown or Devil’s Hole. We support the advisory panel’s recommendation.

Click here for our written comments to the SAFMC on Amendment 36.

I urge you to take advantage of the opportunity to comment on these SMZs via hearings, webinars or written comments. Click here for the details on how.

Thank you in advance for your efforts!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Sustainablefishing.org


P.S. The CFSF is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues and contributions to operate. We need your financial support! If you are not already a member, please join today at the highest level you can afford by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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SOUTH STRAND NEWS |Council based in Inlet is watchdog for fishermen

Wayne Mershon and Tom Swatzel, both of Murrells Inlet, have dedicated their lives to the rod and reel, and now they are looking out for their fellow anglers.

Federal regulations on the fishing industry over the last several years were the catalyst for Mershon and Swatzel to form the Council for Sustainable Fishing, a nonprofit watchdog group for fishermen from North Carolina to the Florida Keys.

They started the nonprofit group in December 2013.

“The way federal fisheries are managed changed in 2006 with the passage of the latest version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” Swatzel said. “That caused the regional fisheries councils to have to manage fisheries by different standards.”

One big issue the fishing industry faces is the “catch share” program.

“Catch share” is a general term for several fishery management strategies that allocate a specific portion of the total allowable fishery catch to individuals, cooperatives, communities, or other entities, according to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Commission.

“Each recipient of a catch share is directly accountable to stop fishing when its specific quota is reached,” the South Atlantic commission stated.

Mershon said this program has broken the trust of fishermen and it is up for public review in the next few months.

“There is going to be a big outcry from the fishermen because nobody wants it,” Mershon said. “It puts fishermen out of business. It is going to make fishermen ban together and it will probably draw more members to our organization.”

According to the Council for Sustainable Fishing’s website, “Now, more than ever, commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood dealers and wholesalers, restaurants, and others that rely on fishing, are being economically hurt by federal fishery management policy and regulations driven by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”

As an example, the website states, “in the South Atlantic region, since reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, snapper-grouper fishing effort from all fishing sectors combined has declined by nearly 40 percent and landings are down nearly 35 percent from peaks in 2007 and 2008.”

“That caused a lot of commercial fishermen to go out of business,” Swatzel said. “It was a concern on the part of both commercial and recreational fishing interests that there was not a group being an advocate for them in front of the South Atlantic Fisheries Council.” Mershon agreed.

“The South Atlantic Fisheries Council gained the trust of fishermen, but they used to just do whatever they wanted,” he said.

“They didn’t listen to fishermen’s concerns.”

In addition to Mershon, who serves as president, and Swatzel, who serves as the executive director, there are seven board members representing areas in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Mershon is the owner of Kenyon Seafood in Murrells Inlet, selling fresh seafood to local restaurants as well as shipping to Atlanta, North Carolina, Florida and Canada.

He has been involved with the recreational and commercial fishing industry for 34 years

Swatzel earned a degree in marine biology from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and started working at Captain Dick’s Marina in Murrells Inlet in the 1970s.

After earning his captain’s license, he ran charter and party boats for seven years and ultimately worked for Captain Dick’s for 35 years.

He served on the South Atlantic Fisheries Council for six years, from 2007 to 2013.

The other directors are Vice President Langdon Gunter, a recreational fisherman in Myrtle Beach, Secretary/Treasurer Ann W. Shipman, business development manager in Greer, James H. Clark, executive chef at The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill, N.C., Tony Hancock and Sean Heverin, both commercial fisherman in Jacksonville, Fla., Cheryl Fuller, director of seafood operations for Halperns’ Steak and Seafood, Atlanta, Ga., and Sonny Davis with Capt. Stacy Fishing Center, Atlantic Beach, N.C.

The Council for Sustainable Fishing meets quarterly and directors are updated on any changes to fishing regulations or policies when they occur, Swatzel said.

Capt. Mark Brown, who is a Mount Pleasant-based charter boat captain and currently serves on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, said it is important to have groups like the Council for Sustainable Fishing to represent the interests of fishermen.

“These groups try to keep an eye on what’s happening with fishery management and what is proposed,” Brown said. “They make recommendations, support good management and make sure the management is not economically hurting fishermen.”

He said sometimes fishery management is based on uncertainties.

“Because of that uncertainty, there is a lack of scientific data,” he said. “One of the biggest things the [South Atlantic Fisheries Management] Council and all of fishery management councils are impacted by is lack of data. It is getting better, but it takes a long period of time to quantify it, and that can be devastating to lot of fishermen.”

Mershon and Swatzel urge anyone interested in the future of the fishing industry to join the Council for Sustainable Fishing. For more information, visit www.sustainablefishing.org. To learn more about the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, visit www.safmc.net.

Click here for the article.

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National invasive lionfish control plan blasted as ‘too little, too late’

MURRELLS INLET, SC – The Council for Sustainable Fishing, a nonprofit advocacy group for commercial and recreational fishing interests, Wednesday criticized a draft national plan to address the growing lionfish invasion in U.S. southeastern waters for being late, short on funding, and weak on implementation.

“This plan has taken nearly four years to develop, while the lionfish invasion continues full bore in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, endangering reef ecology and valuable fisheries,” Council for Sustainable Fishing Executive Director Tom Swatzel said. “Other countries and even some U.S. national marine sanctuaries and parks have had lionfish control plans in place for years. I’m afraid it may be too little, too late to control the invasion, potentially putting the fishing industry at peril.”

A draft National Invasive Lionfish Prevention and Management Plan, started in 2011, was released by the federal Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force for public comment in December. The comment period ends January 26th.

According to the plan, responsibility for implementation and funding would fall to ten different federal agencies – from NOAA to the U.S. Geological Survey -- at an estimated annual cost of $22 million.

“This plan hinges on implementation by committee, a sure way for inaction and a recipe for unaccountability. It would be best for one agency, such as NOAA, to have responsibility for implementation,” Swatzel said.

Swatzel points out that NOAA spent more money -- $25 million in FY 2014 -- promoting and developing privatization of fisheries through “catch share” programs than is being proposed to address the lionfish invasion.

“Spending money to promote privatization of fisheries doesn’t provide any biological benefit to fisheries. It’s a waste. If we’re serious about lionfish control, serious money needs to be invested in developing lionfish harvesting methods that are much more efficient than a diver spearing one lionfish at a time,” Swatzel said. “Highly valuable commercial and recreational snapper-grouper fisheries are at stake.”

Lionfish are rarely caught on hook and line. Most landings are by divers with spear guns.

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific. The first U.S. sightings were off Florida in 1985. Lionfish are now well established in the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean.

Lionfish have no known predators because of their venomous spines and feed voraciously on juvenile snapper and grouper. A study in the Bahamas reported an 80 percent reduction in native fish over a five-week period on an isolated reef inhabited by lionfish. They reproduce rapidly with females releasing up to 30,000 eggs per spawn and spawning up to three times per month. (Click here for additional information.)

Lionfish are becoming highly sought after by restaurants. Commercial spear fishermen are getting over $5 a pound for lionfish, comparable with snapper and grouper.

“Devoting resources to develop more efficient means of lionfish harvesting is a win-win for both commercial fishermen, who have been financially impacted by growing fishery regulations, and for the protection of our important reef fish from lionfish predation,” Swatzel said.

The Council for Sustainable Fishing represents commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood dealers and wholesalers, restaurateurs, and chefs in the South Atlantic region. The mission of the CFSF is to optimize and sustaining fishing opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen to aid the coastal economy of the region and ensure stable seafood availability to consumers.

The CFSF website is Sustainablefishing.org

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The fishery council credibility gap

Credibility is defined as “the quality of being trusted and believed in.” It’s an essential quality, particularly to govern. In the late 1960s the term “credibility gap” was created to describe public skepticism of the federal government during the Vietnam War era. It’s defined as “an apparent difference between what is said or promised and what happens or is true.”

This week in New Bern, NC, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council created its own credibility gap with fishermen and other stakeholders when it decided to include catch share schemes for both the commercial and for-hire sectors, expensive vessel monitoring systems for all sectors, and more no-fishing Marine Protected Areas -- all management measures vehemently opposed by the vast majority of stakeholders -- in its draft long-term plan for the snapper-grouper fishery called the Vision Project.

This despite the fact that the SAFMC promised that the Vision Project would be “stakeholder-driven,” resulting in “a vision that is shared between the Council and all stakeholders in the South Atlantic.” The quotes are from the SAFMC website.

This year, the SAFMC conducted 26 “port meetings” that were supposed to seek stakeholder input into the Vision Project. These meetings, according to the SAFMC’s own records, produced ample input that stakeholders don’t support catch shares, VMS or more MPAs.

But the SAFMC really didn’t need these meetings to know how fishermen and other stakeholders feel about these management measures. Each time the fishery council has proposed catch shares, VMS, and MPAs in the past, they have been met with massive opposition to the point where the council has had to withdraw the proposals. So they should know better.

Catch share programs, VMS, and MPAs are not required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act; their use by regional fishery councils is entirely optional. Studies have shown that catch shares provide no biological benefit to fisheries and destroy jobs.

If you attended the SAFMC Vision Project meeting this week, as our Executive Director Tom Swatzel did or listened in on the webinar, you heard a council that was intent on driving the project, particularly as it relates to catch shares. The council chairman said that the SAFMC should take an active role in educating fishermen about catch shares. Others talked about how well catch shares were working in the Northeast, despite evidence to the contrary.

The SAFMC has turned what could have been a useful stakeholder-driven long-term plan that snapper-grouper fishermen could count on into one of the biggest threats to the existence of commercial, for-hire, and recreational fishermen. As this draft Vision Project moves through the fishery council approval process next year, stakeholders need to be vigilant and strongly voice their concerns each step of the way.

Unfortunately, the huge credibility gap the SAFMC has created with fishermen and other stakeholders may not be repairable for a very long time.

Respectfully,

Wayne Mershon
President
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The CFSF is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues and contributions to operate. If you are not already a member, please join today at the highest level you can afford by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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Fishery council credibility is at stake

Last year, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council made a big splash about wanting to pursue a snapper-grouper fishery Vision Project to create a long-term plan for the fishery that would be “stakeholder-driven,” resulting in “a vision that is shared between the Council and all stakeholders in the South Atlantic.”

In February through April of this year, the SAFMC conducted 26 “port meetings” to seek stakeholder input into the Vision Project. Last month the SAFMC held a Vision workshop to “move forward with the input received during the port meetings” by drafting long-term management strategies for the fishery.

The draft Vision management strategies were publicly revealed last week and incredibly they included catch shares, expensive Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), and more no-fishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) -- measures vehemently opposed by the vast majority of stakeholders for years through the council amendment process and more recently through the Vision port meetings.

We’re shocked and disappointed to see the SAFMC depart so dramatically from the stakeholder-driven, shared vision approach that the council has held itself out as supporting.

Additionally, it seems the document has been drafted to be anything but direct with stakeholders about the inclusion of catch shares as a management strategy.

The phrase “catch shares” is nowhere to be found in the document. Instead creative code-speak is used to describe the strategy throughout the document: “sector share management system,” “individual quota management system,” “individual quota programs,” “sector share programs/cooperatives,” “individual quotas,” and “allocations by permit.”

The approach the SAFMC is taking with these Vision management strategies hurts the credibility of the council with already skeptical stakeholders and jeopardizes the Vision Project as currently defined.

Next week the SAFMC will consider these draft management strategies at its meeting in New Bern, NC.

We’re urging the council to refocus on achieving a stakeholder-driven, shared vision of snapper-grouper management strategies - as promised - by eliminating catch shares, VMS, and additional MPAs as Vision Project management strategies.

The credibility of both the Vision Project and the SAFMC is at stake.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director

P.S. The CFSF is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues and contributions to operate. If you are not already a member, please join today at the highest level you can afford by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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