Two classes of fishermen: "Kings" and "Serfs"

When you hear of fishermen being divided by the government into two classes -- “kings” and “serfs” -- you would think it would be from medieval times or some scheme hatched under a third-world dictatorship.

But no, this is happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now with the commercial red snapper catch share program as documented by an investigative report by AL.com published this week.

The report states that the catch share program “has turned dozens of Gulf of Mexico fishermen into the lords of the sea — able to earn millions annually without even going fishing — and transformed dozens more into modern-day serfs who must pay the lords for the right to harvest red snapper…roughly $60 million has been earned since 2007 by this small number of fishermen whose boats never left port. That money was collected from the labor of fishermen who have no choice but to hand over more than half of the price that their catch brings at the dock.”

According to the report, “just 55 people own the right to catch fully 77 percent of all the snapper in the Gulf, a haul worth $18 million annually…the remaining 25 percent of the harvest, a little over 1 million pounds, is split among about 500 people, which means there are a lot of very small shares. And a lot of fishermen who must buy the right to fish.”

Even former Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Chairman Bob Shipp, who was chairman when the catch share program was approved, has had second thoughts, stating to AL.com, “…nobody on the council realized the scale of what was going on. I had no idea it was as bad as it is."

The scary part is that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is just a few votes away from forcing catch shares on commercial snapper-grouper fishermen and creating more “kings” and “serfs.”

Last October, after 97 percent of snapper-grouper fishery stakeholders said they oppose any form of catch shares, a vote to remove catch share programs from the long-range fishery “Vision” plan barely passed on a 7 to 5 vote.

This even after the SAFMC had promised the Vision plan would be “stakeholder-driven.” “Voluntary” catch shares remain in the plan.

Our thanks to the hundreds of fishery stakeholders that responded to our mailings and let the SAFMC know just how much they oppose job killing catch shares.

However, we must remain ever vigilant to the threat. It’s clear a significant number of SAFMC members support imposing catch shares no matter what fishery stakeholders want.

Please help us in our efforts to fight catch shares and other unnecessary fishery management measures that have no bearing on fishery sustainability by clicking here today and joining the Council for Sustainable Fishing.

We’re a nonprofit group that relies on memberships to operate. Please help today!

Thank you in advance for your support!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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