Members of the Gulf Coast Seafood Alliance, representing seafood harvesters, distributors, and the restaurants serving their products, are deeply disturbed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s recent proposal to reallocate 20 percent of the commercial red grouper quota to the recreational sector.
Quota Grab Concerns Fishermen
If approved, the council’s action will deprive the citizens of the United States access to 600,000 pounds of red grouper this year currently being caught by commercial fishermen, and enjoyed by anyone who does not have the ability or opportunity to fish recreationally. It will also deprive restaurants of revenue from those landings, and will block both local residents and tourists from accessing our gulf seafood resources.
This decision demonstrates the success of an ongoing effort by the well-funded recreational fishing lobby to take a disproportionate share of the quota for their personal enjoyment, and for the profit of companies supplying fishing gear and recreational vessels.
Of America’s approximately 330 million citizens, only 38 million are holders of recreational fishing licenses, tags, permits and stamps, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The 11 percent of Americans who enjoy fishing recreationally, who can afford the gear, boats and charters needed to participate in this sport, certainly have the right to access this resource, but they should not have the right to monopolize the resource.
The other 89 percent of Americans nationwide who do not hold fishing licenses, tags, permits or stamps also have the right to access domestic seafood resources, which they currently do through the labor of our commercial fishermen and distributors, who supply wild-caught seafood to their markets and favorite restaurants.
Commercial fishing is just as important to the gulf tourist economy as recreational fishing, even though the benefits are often overlooked. If commercial fishermen can’t catch enough local species like grouper, the impacts will ripple through the critically important restaurant industry. Less grouper to catch means less grouper for restaurants, and that will inevitably lead to higher prices at the table.
Red grouper is one of the best-selling local seafood items at gulf restaurants. Without ready access to it at prices customers feel comfortable paying, some restaurants may have to consider supplementing their wild-caught products with farm-raised fish from overseas.
Fresh, local seafood is one of the reasons people come from across the country to the Gulf of Mexico; a restaurant industry without it would be far less appealing.
The council’s adopted proposal is not the last word, however. The council must now submit its proposed changes in Reef Fish Amendment 53 to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which must ultimately be approved by the Secretary of Commerce before it can be implemented.
Appointees to the council selected by former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from the slates of nominees submitted by regional governors tipped the composition of the council in the direction of recreational fishing interests who derive their pleasure from our fisheries over those who derive their livelihoods from our fisheries.
As the former governor of Rhode Island, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo unquestionably understands the need to balance the rights of recreational fishing participants with the rights of citizen consumers.
Like our Gulf Coast, the Rhode Island economy has for centuries supported fishing interests — both commercial and recreational — as well as a robust tourist trade that sustains restaurants, markets and hotels filled with guests who enjoy local seafood. We must continue developing methods to share our nation’s coastal resources and not exclude one sector in favor of another.