A victory for fishermen and science

On Wednesday, 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 222-193 vote.

Our thanks to the Representatives who voted for the bill.

Called the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act,” the legislation 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 read the bill and here to see how your Representative voted.

The legislation will give regional fishery councils the flexibility to institute fishery rebuilding plans based on a stock’s biology, not on the existing arbitrary 10-year deadline. This is in response to a 2015 congressional report from the National Research Council 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 and allows consideration of ecosystem changes and the economic needs of fishing communities in establishing annual catch limits.

It requires referendum approval of any proposed “catch share” programs in the South Atlantic region by a majority of the affected fishery permit holders and bans the use of Exempted Fishing Permits to establish catch share programs like the 2017 back-door effort by South Atlantic fishery council insiders to establish a “pilot” snapper-grouper catch share program.

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.

Thank you for your support!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. We need your financial support to continue an effective advocacy campaign for fishing interests! Please join today by clicking here. Thank you!

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SAFMC decides for now to not limit the number of head and charter boats

Some good news.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council at their meeting this month decided, at least for now, to not move forward with limiting the number of charter and head boats in the snapper-grouper fishery.

The comments received by the SAFMC were overwhelmingly against limited entry. My thanks to all who submitted comments.

One of the important points we made was that the SAFMC really doesn’t know what permitted snapper-grouper charter boats are catching or targeting, whether they are fishing in state or federal waters or even if permit holders are not fishing at all and simply banking the permit. The current Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) survey of charter boats is just not very good, which the SAFMC has acknowledged by moving to required electronic reporting next year.

The 2016 data from the South Carolina charter boat reporting program, the only state in the region that requires for-hire reporting, shows that 60 percent of the trips by charter boats with federal snapper-grouper for-hire permits were within three miles of shore, in state waters, and effectively didn’t target federal snapper-grouper species.

This is the kind of information the SAFMC needs region-wide to make an informed decision about for-hire limited entry and it will get it with the upcoming federal charter boat electronic reporting requirement.

While the SAFMC is continuing to study for-hire limited entry, we hope any further consideration waits until after a couple of years of region-wide charter boat reporting data is collected. The SAFMC has an obligation under the law to use the “best scientific information available” in making fishery management decision.

For information about other SAFMC actions at the meeting, please click here.

I hope this information is helpful.

I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. Please help us continue our fight against catch shares and for fishermen and fishing communities by clicking here and joining today. Already a member – please consider a higher membership level to help. 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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Threat of limiting the number of charter and head boats is back

It's back.

After delaying for several months, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will once again consider limiting the number of charter and head boats in the snapper-grouper fishery when it meets next week in Atlantic Beach, NC.

This despite overwhelming opposition from fishery stakeholders, a plunge in charter and head boat fishing effort and effectively no growth in snapper-grouper for-hire permits.

To stop this effort to pick winners and losers in the for-hire fishery, one that will set up a “stock market” for permits and could be a first step toward for-hire catch shares, please send comments to the SAFMC today opposing the snapper-grouper “For-Hire Moratorium Amendment” by clicking here. Please make your comments no later than Thursday, December 7th.

Click here for the limited entry amendment.

Since the 2007 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which mandated very conservative Annual Catch Limits for all fisheries, for-hire fishing effort in the South Atlantic has plunged by nearly 40 percent from a peak of 306,441 angler trips in 2007 to just 188,114 trips in 2016.

Most recently for-hire trips fell by 2.4 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Click here to see the graph.

From 2008 to 2015, the number of for-hire snapper-grouper permits actually fell by 4 percent. Since 2008, the only real growth in the number of permits has been since the control date or cutoff for future limited entry was announced last year, spawning a 6.5 percent jump in permits from fishermen who didn’t want to be left out.

This has nothing to do with fishery sustainability, and everything to do with picking winners and losers in the charter and head boat business.

I urge you to click here today to access the SAFMC online comment form and tell them you’re opposed to the For-Hire Moratorium Amendment. These “on the record” comments are crucial. Please make your comments no later than Thursday, December 7th.

Thank you in advance for your efforts!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. Please help us continue our fight against catch shares and for fishermen and fishing communities by clicking here and joining today. Already a member – please consider a higher membership level to help. Thank You!

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Red snapper season announced

red_snapper.jpg

On October 27th, NOAA Fisheries announced the red snapper fishery openings for 2017.

The recreational fishery will open on the following dates:
November 3, 4, and 5
November 10, 11, and 12
Bag Limit: 1 fish per person/day
Size Limit: No minimum size limit

The commercial fishery will open:
November 2
Trip Limit: 75 lb daily trip limit
Size Limit: No minimum size limit

For more information about the season, click here for the news release.

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Red snapper decision next Monday

I wanted you to know that as a result of Hurricane Irma, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting to consider opening the red snapper fishery has been rescheduled for next Monday, September 25th.

The SAFMC will consider an Emergency Action that could temporarily open the red snapper fishery this year and Snapper-Grouper Amendment 43, which could open the fishery starting in 2018.

These actions are a result of a “recently discovered” red snapper abundance index from a long-term fishery independent survey that confirmed what most fishermen were seeing on the water: the red snapper population has exploded, with the population in 2016 nearly three times higher than in 1996 according to the index. Click here for the index.

The SAFMC’s preferred catch limit (Alternative 4) in both the Emergency Action and Amendment 43 would allow recreational fishermen to land 29,656 fish and commercial to land 124,815 pounds.

What’s important, if you haven’t already done so, is to let the SAFMC know you support Alternative 5 in both the Emergency Action and Amendment 43, which is the maximum catch limit under consideration: a recreational catch limit of 55,753 fish and commercial limit of 234,652 pounds.

Click here for the Emergency Action document and here for Amendment 43.

Please click here to submit your comment supporting Alternative 5.

Many comments have already been submitted. Click here to read them.

Also, please consider speaking in favor of Alternative 5 at the SAFMC’s public hearing on the Emergency Action and Amendment 43 next Monday, September 25th, at the Town & Country Inn, 2008 Savannah Highway in Charleston, SC beginning at 10:15 am.

Thank you in advance for your efforts!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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'Recently discovered' data may allow red snapper fishery to open

I wanted to make you aware of some good news: it’s likely the red snapper fishery in the South Atlantic will open this year.

There’s an emergency action to open the red snapper fishery on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s agenda for its upcoming meeting on September 11-15 in Charleston, SC. The SAFMC’s preferred catch limit would allow recreational fishermen to land 29,656 fish and commercial to land 124,815 lb.

The emergency action projects an October 6th fishery opening date. Under the preferred catch limit alternative, the recreational season is projected to last six to twelve days and the commercial season year-round based on a 75 lb. trip limit.

Click here for the emergency action document.

Also, on the SAFMC’s agenda is Snapper-Grouper Amendment 43, which would establish red snapper annual catch limits starting in 2018. Click here for the amendment.

It’s important to let the SAFMC know you support catch limit Alternative 5 for both the emergency action and Amendment 43, which is the largest catch limit under consideration.

Please click here to submit your comment.

How did we get to this point when as late as March the SAFMC still had an action under consideration to potentially close more large areas of bottom to fishing to “protect” red snapper and in June the SAFMC announced that red snapper discards exceeded the acceptable biological limit and there would be no 2017 season?

Incredibly, “recently discovered and unforeseen data” is the answer according to the emergency action.

An index from a long-term fishery independent survey was “discovered” that confirmed what most fishermen were seeing on the water: the red snapper population has exploded, with the population in 2016 three times higher than in 1990. And this population explosion occurred despite the limited red snapper fishing seasons from 2012 to 2014 and the dead discards since the fishery was closed in 2010.

Click here to see the index.

It’s sad that fishermen and the coastal economy have paid the price for the very poor data effort, projections and estimates that have prevented this fishery from opening years ago. Our fishery managers have got to do much better.

I hope this information is helpful.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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A disappointing vote to limit charter and head boats

Since December, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has gotten 246 on the record comments opposing limiting the number of charter and head boats and just 5 comments in favor.

Yet last week the SAFMC voted 9 to 3 to move forward with limiting the number of charter and head boats in the snapper-grouper fishery. This despite the overwhelming opposition and no scientific justification: there has been a 40 percent plunge in for-hire fishing effort since 2007 and no growth in for-hire permits.

This is a disappointing vote that will start the process of picking winners and losers in the for-hire fishery, and could set up a “stock market” for permits and a step toward for-hire catch shares. We’ll remain vigilant in fighting against limited entry.

Red snapper and cobia were other big topics discussed last week by the SAFMC and there is some better news.

NOAA Fisheries has gone on record that the SAFMC has taken sufficient action to end overfishing of red snapper, so extreme measures such as closing other snapper-grouper fisheries or imposing more closed fishing areas to protect red snapper are off the table now.

The problem acknowledged at the SAFMC meeting is that current landings and discard data on red snapper are so poor they aren’t sufficient to be able to calculate an Annual Catch Limit, so efforts to have a 2018 season will focus on developing a way to calculate a more accurate catch limit.

Catch data problems and jurisdiction were discussed with the cobia fishery, which is closed to recreational fishermen in federal waters.

The SAFMC requested NOAA Fisheries recalculate the recreational landings estimates for 2015 and 2016 as reported through the Marine Recreational Information Program because of concerns about accuracy, especially off North Carolina and Virginia.

Consideration is being given to transferring cobia management authority to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which would allow management flexibility between the states.

A stock assessment of cobia will take place next year.

I hope this information is helpful. We’ll continue to stand up for fishermen and fishing communities.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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Charter and headboats at risk

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will once again consider limiting the number of charter and headboats in the snapper-grouper fishery when it meets next week in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.

This despite a plunge in for-hire fishing effort, no growth in for-hire permits and overwhelming opposition from fishermen.

To stop this effort to pick winners and losers in the for-hire fishery, one that will set up a “stock market” for permits and could be a first step toward for-hire catch shares, please send comments to the SAFMC today opposing limited entry by clicking here.

Since the 2007 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which mandated very conservative Annual Catch Limits for all fisheries, for-hire fishing effort in the South Atlantic has plunged by nearly 40 percent from a peak of 306,441 angler trips in 2007 to just 188,114 trips in 2016.

Most recently trips fell by 2.4 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Click here to see the graph.

Additionally, this year there are nine less snapper-grouper for-hire permits from North Carolina through east Florida to Key West, than in 2009.

When the SAFMC last seriously considered for-hire limited entry last December, there were 169 written comments against the proposal and just 3 for it, yet SAFMC members are still pushing it.

One of the comments was from the National Association of Charterboat Operators, which describes the for-hire limited entry disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and states that the program is “working to eliminate for hire vessel owners from the industry.”

Click here for the NACO comments.

It would be one thing if for-hire limited entry was about fishery sustainability, but it’s not.

I urge you to click here today to access the SAFMC online comment form and tell them you’re opposed to for-hire limited entry. These “on the record” comments are crucial. Please make your comments no later than next Monday, June 12th.

Thank you in advance for your efforts!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. Please help us continue our fight against catch shares and for fishermen and fishing communities by clicking here and joining today. Already a member – please consider a higher membership level to help. 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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Insiders 'triple down' on fishery privatization through catch shares

I’m sure you’ve heard of doubling down: “to become more tenacious, zealous, or resolute in a position or undertaking.”

Have you heard of tripling down?

Tripling down is just what South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Vice Chair Charlie Phillips and SAFMC member Chris Conklin did in an effort to gain private ownership of our snapper-grouper fishery through catch shares.

First, Phillips, Conklin and former SAFMC member Jack Cox, all commercial snapper-grouper fleet owners and dealers, attempted as insiders to get a pilot snapper-grouper catch share program for their boats, through a back-door effort using an Exempted Fishing Permit.

The EFP would have given them exclusive snapper-grouper shares and exempted their boats from any trip limits and seasonal or quota closures.

After the SAFMC received 600 comments against -- 97 percent -- and just 16 for the pilot catch share EFP, Phillips, Conklin and Cox had to withdraw the EFP application at the last minute, just as the March 8th public hearing in Jekyll Island, GA was about to begin.

But incredibly in the face of 97 percent opposition from fishermen they are supposed to represent as SAFMC members, Phillips and Conklin doubled down on their catch shares, vowing to regroup and re-file the EFP application at a later date.

But doubling down wasn’t enough – they had to triple down.

In the very last few minutes of the March 10th SAFMC meeting, when most fishermen had stopped paying attention to the meeting, Phillips and Conklin tripled down with a failed attempt to get a presentation on catch shares from a NOAA catch share guru on the SAFMC’s June meeting agenda to “educate” the fishery council and fishermen on the benefits of catch shares.

Click here for the audio recording of the meeting and fast forward to 2:57:30 to hear this unbelievable effort.

There are no benefits to catch shares unless you become a ‘snapper baron’ like in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery, which appears to be the goal of Phillips and Conklin, contrary to the interests of the fishermen they are supposed to represent.

Catch shares consolidate fishing fleets, unemploying tens of thousands of fishermen, hurt fishing communities, and studies have shown they provide no biological benefit or enhance sustainability to fisheries. Catch shares are about picking economic winners and losers.

We’ll have to remain ever vigilant for this threat to fishermen and fishing communities!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. Please help us continue our fight against catch shares and for fishermen and fishing communities by clicking here and joining today. Already a member – please consider a higher membership level to help. 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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Catch share threat dead for now

Thanks to you and many others, catch share fishery management in the South Atlantic is dead – at least for now.

Yesterday at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council public hearing in Jekyll Island, GA it was announced that the pilot snapper-grouper catch share Exempted Fishing Permit application had been withdrawn.

Click here for media coverage.

This back-door attempt to begin the privatization of our fishery resources by insiders, sitting SAFMC members Charlie Phillips and Chris Conklin and former SAFMC member Jack Cox, all commercial snapper-grouper fleet owners and dealers, met overwhelming opposition from fishermen all across the region.

By the time of the well-attended public hearing, there were a total of 616 comments on the catch share EFP through the SAFMC’s online comment form: 600 comments or 97 percent against and just 16 comments or 3 percent for.

The 97 percent stakeholder opposition to the catch share EFP should be no surprise. It’s the exact same percentage of opposition expressed to any form of catch shares by snapper-grouper stakeholders to the SAFMC during input on it’s long-range snapper-grouper Vision management plan – a plan the SAFMC promised would be “stakeholder-driven.”

But incredibly, one thing was made clear during the announcement of the withdrawal – these insiders plan on regrouping, with the help of the radical Environmental Defense Fund, and returning one day with another plan to capture ownership of our fishery through catch shares.

We’ll have to remain vigilant.

With your help we’ve been able to stop catch shares for now, but it’s taken a toll on our financial resources. We’ve spent thousands in unbudgeted money on action-alert mailings to all commercial and for-hire fishery permit holders in the four state region, and on communications and research.

We’ve taken on a well-funded EDF backed catch share effort and won.

Please help us with your financial support by clicking here today and joining at the highest level you can afford. Any amount would be helpful -- use the "other" amount and give $10, $15, $25, $35 or more. Already a member – please consider increasing your membership level.

Thank you in advance for your support!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. Please help us continue our fight against catch shares and for fishermen and fishing communities by clicking here and joining today. Already a member – please consider a higher membership level to help. 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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