Even through red snapper solutions in the gulf are expanding (that’s the good news) the waters are muddy over how much line to give sport fisherman. The Guy Harvey Fisheries Symposium gave all sides the opportunity to voice their opinions. The following article gives a full report of those comments. To learn even more go to www.guyharveyfisheriessymposium.com.
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Headlined by the always-congenial Dr. Guy Harvey himself, the speakers included an all-star cast of marine scientists, non-governmental organizations, commercial and recreational fishing representatives, as well as officials from state and federal regulatory agencies. The GH Symposium is one of the only conferences that brings together divergent groups like commercial and recreational fishermen to work together on complex fishery issues.
“Ultimately, we all share the same ocean and we have to ensure sustainable use of our marine resources,” Dr. Harvey said. “By bringing everyone together, we can better understand each other’s point of view and find solutions we can all live with.”
Probably the most anticipated forum was called “Red Snapper-Case Study-Can We Fix It?” The panel consisted of Jeff Miller, who represents recreational fishermen as the president of Florida’s Coastal Conservation Association, and Jason De La Cruz, a longtime commercial fisherman. It was rounded out by four PhDs: Dr. Roy Crabtree of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Dr. Greg Stunz of Texas A&M University, Dr. Will Patterson of the University of South Alabama and Dr. Bob Shipp, who was director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Mobile, Alabama, for more than 30 years.
Without getting into the nitty gritty, I’ll just say that they all believe we can fix red snapper by employing two basic elements: one, keeping the fishery sustainable and, two, making sure that commercial and recreational fishermen can sit around a campfire sharing a wooly blanket, holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” The first part-sustainability- is happening. Snapper are growing faster than Taylor Swift;s Twitter followers. However, not so much on that second part. The commercial/recreational fisherman relationship is rockier than, well, uh, a Taylor Swift love ballad.
When you consider that the red snapper season for sport fishermen has been reduced from 180 days in 2007 to just 11 days in 2014 and could be a scant one or two days in 2015, it’s easy to understand why weekend warrior fishermen are outraged.
Dr. Shipp is one of the leading red snapper experts in the world and has been an outspoken advocate for linger snapper seasons. During his presentation, he proposed two alternatives to the current system. One is to let states manage the fishery rather than the feds. The other suggestion was to only fish within certain depths.
“I believe we could still fish for 180 days,” Shipp said, “if we limit fishing to depths of 25 fathoms (approximately 150 ft.) and not target the big breeders. That would leave huge areas of deep water for the population to continue to flourish.”
Support for Shipp’s ideas was mixed, but there was general agreement that the recreational season desperately needs attention, considering the massive impact millions of weekend fishermen have on the economy.
“In addition to buying boats and fishing gear, recreational fishermen contribute generously to conservation organizations like the CCA,” Miller said. “They also create the majority of the funding for state conservation efforts through fishing license purchases. I’m not against commercial fishing, but there has to be some parity for everyone, and right now it’s unbalanced.”
On the flip side, the commercial fishing industry is relatively content. They have Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) they abide by that allows them to fish all year but still limits their total catch. It’s a system that is working well, party because every fish is meticulously documented. In other words, their reporting is solid.
Unfortunately, catch reports from the hundreds of thousands of fishermen who go out for fun rather than work is sketchy at best. As they say, it’s like herding cats. There are plenty of Apps for reporting your daily catch, but getting fishers to use them has proven difficult. So, whether or not we can “fix red snapper” for sport fishing remains extremely uncertain.
The symposiums’d aquaculture panel was led by Don Kent, president of the Hubbs SeaWorld Institute. While there’s a tremendous amount of aquaculture research going on in the U.S., the amount of fish grown in the U.S. pales in comparison to the rest of the world. The U.S. imports some 80% of the seafood it consumes, yet only contributes about 1% to the planet’s overall aquaculture production.
“The lack of a clearly defined regulatory framework has led U.S. investors to take aquaculture to other countries,” Kent said. “There’s a company in Mexico growing red drum [redfish] and selling them to the U.S. market. Why aren’t we growing those fish here?”
While I can’t say that this question and all the others discussed at the symposium were answered (we had to save time to work on that whole Mid-East peace thing), it feels good to move the conversation along in a positive direction.
The symposium was sponsored by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Guy Harvey Magazine, Fresh from Florida, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, the Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Association, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the University of South Florida–St. Petersburg and the Florida Attractions Association.
The third Guy Harvey Fishery Symposium is tentatively slated for September 2015. For more information, go to: www.guyharveyfisheriessymposium.com.