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.


Wayne Mershon
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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