Gulf snapper story misleads, maligns

In early February, New Orleans-based Fox affiliate WVUE broadcast a series aimed at demonizing commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, smearing a successful management story and the hardworking people who have built businesses that deliver wild, sustainably caught domestic seafood to American consumers.

FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

At the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, we are baffled and disappointed that reporter Lee Zurik teamed with a Washington, D.C., politician — Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La.) — to tear down a longstanding program that allows innovative fishermen to build profitable businesses and sustainable fisheries.

Thanks to a successful individual fishing quota program, red snapper access for all fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico has nearly tripled, and American seafood consumers now enjoy American red snapper on their dinner plates and in restaurants 365 days a year. There are more red snapper in the gulf now than there have been in decades, and they’re larger and being caught in more areas than before. Commercial fishing is more profitable, and fishermen are able to build stable business plans into the future. Young fishermen looking to enter the fishery are partnering with older fishermen who are looking for a graceful way to exit.

The truth is that this program has been a remarkable success that should be celebrated, not vilified.

Yet Zurik ignored all of that, and instead decided to pursue a dishonest and misleading storyline. In response to this biased approach, we would like to provide some information that Fox 8 New Orleans failed to divulge:

  • The development of the IFQ program was a transparent and public process. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council — comprising 17 voting members, 16 of which are approved by the governors of the five gulf states – held dozens of public meetings where anyone could express their opinion and participate in the process.
  • The initial allocation of fishing quotas was a public Gulf council decision and was based on fishermen’s historical participation in the fishery. The suggestion that this program was secret or that the federal government arbitrarily picked winners and losers in the fishery is absurd. Fishermen who had participated in the fishery and whose businesses depended on red snapper received a proportionately higher quota than those who were less dependent on red snapper.
  • Commercial red snapper and grouper fishermen in the gulf pay a fee for the privilege of harvesting these fish for seafood consumers. Non-IFQ programs are not required to do this. Three percent of their gross income on every IFQ species must be reinvested in the program – this amounts to more than $4 million through 2015 with another $1 million (+/-) expected to be generated from the 2016 season.
  • Prior to the IFQ program, the gulf red snapper population was near collapse, commercial fishing was less profitable and quotas were exceeded on a regular basis. Since this program was implemented, quotas for all fishermen — including recreational anglers in the gulf — have nearly tripled, commercial fishing is profitable again, and commercial fishermen have not exceeded their quotas.
  • Allowing transferability of fishing quotas ensures that fishermen across the gulf can access quota for red snapper when they need more – either to fill an order for a good customer or when they find themselves catching more than they own. As a result of this, commercial fishermen work together to harvest between 96 and 99 percent of their quota every year.
  • Rep. Graves is proposing a piece of federal legislation that would strip the commercial fishery from the protections afforded to it by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and legally allow state bureaucrats to eliminate the commercial red snapper fishery in 10 years. More than 40 commercial fishing and seafood organizations from throughout the United States, representing thousands of commercial fishermen and tens of millions of pounds of commercially important seafood, oppose this precedent-setting federal takeover.

We are disappointed that Fox 8 New Orleans relied on biased and unreliable sources to inform their attack on commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. Had they approached us in the beginning with an objective position, we would have been more than happy to explain how red snapper is an ongoing American seafood success story.

Read the full statement on the Fox story issued by the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance.

Read an update from the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance issued on March 1, 2017.

About the author

Eric Brazer

Eric Brazer is the Deputy Director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance.

  • Mark

    Fox 8 thanks for shedding light on Market Fishing and it’s bad data.

  • mjacks

    The Gulf Of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance are simply a group of Millionaire’s who were “gifted” our Common Resource for personal gain. Their undeserved wealth has little to nothing to do with conservation. Aptly named “slipper skippers”, in many cases, these share-owners simple lease back their shares to the “working stiff” commercial boats for $3.00 per pound. Then those “lesser-fortunate” commercial boats put their money and lives on the line to go out and work hard fishing, only to take home less money (net) than the very comfortable “slipper skipper’s” sitting at home collecting their free money. This is a very unfortunate program for most, and should be abolished soobner rather than later!

  • Bryan Busby

    Eric you are full of 100% manipulative BS, but hey you have to do as you are told by the man holding your pay check. Thanks Fox 8 for actually telling the whole story and not what your Boss tells you to say!

  • Paul

    The comment about access tripling needs some qualification. I will tell you this. When I first started enforcing federal fisheries laws in 1990, I was allowed to keep 7 snapper per trip year round. In 2007 when the commercial IFQ program was launched, I was allowed to keep 4 per day over a 194 day season. Last year I could keep 2 per day over an 11 day season. If that equates to tripled access, I’d be interested in seeing the math behind that. Since 1990 my recreational fishing opportunities have become more restrictive for every single species on the northern gulf. Not one limit has improved. By that measure, NOAA has failed me. NOAA has steadfastly refused to improve recreational data. Lowly Mississippi with their tails and scales program can tell you how many people participated in the recreational red snapper fishery, how many trips they took and how many fish they caught. NOAA could have data that accurate if they wanted it, but they have refused. They insist on guessing. Or more recently they are taking data from the very states they don’t trust to manage the resource. How’s that for irony? There was NOTHING in the FOX report that was factually inaccurate.

  • AlaskaCaught

    This article does a great disservice to commercial fishermen by failing to acknowledge the shortcomings of the gulf snapper program. There is a very big problem when working commercial fishermen cannot afford to buy the fishing rights they need to survive and instead have to funnel their income to shore-based individuals who have secured themselves to the rights to those fishermens’ incomes. I’m especially appalled by how he describes “young fishermen partnering with older with older fishermen who are looking for a graceful way to exit,” in other words that means paying the older fishermen an arm and leg for something that was simply given to the old folks for free. Mr Brazer is either deeply dishonest or delusional about how detrimental these programs are to subsequent generations of fishermen.

  • Vince

    So Eric, how much did you get paid to write this bogus article? Red snapper fushing access for recreational fishermen has been cut more than 350% since 2007. That’s a FACT! 194 day season in 2007 with a 4 fish limit and last year we had a 2 fish limit with an 11 day season. Please explain to everyone how that is a nearly tripled increase of access to the fishery. I hope you rot in hell with Buddy Guindon. You lie to everyone with this article for a buck. Get lost

  • Vince

    No private recreational fishermen want catch shares. I just noticed you’re title. No wonder you wrote this article. You are part of the problem.

  • Paul

    About the title, when the truth maligns, what does that say?

  • jim zurbrick

    Hello other real commercial fishers, its obvious this list of responses come from CCA or other Rec. groups that have ZERO knowledge about the program. Real – actual fishermen created the program and now the American public enjoys year around access to red snapper unlike the folks who bad mouth the most successful fishery management plan in American history and perhaps the world, these Recreational commenters should do their homework before embarrassing themselves with personal attacks about a program they surely know very little about.

  • Bill Tucker

    Some of these comments are unbelievable. Yes recreational access has tripled. And the calculation is easy. The recreational quota has tripled. That’s your “access”. Your problem is that the recreational fishery is experiencing a “derby” fishery, a race to catch the fish. With a quota of 6 million pounds, and the average size red snapper weighing 6 pounds, that means that one million red snapper fishermen can catch the entire quota by catching only one red snapper each, per year. So the early birds get the worms. The short recreational season is a function of a lot of people fishing for an easy fish to catch, and a recreational management structure that is not flexible for individuals, and that does not work very well. The commercial fishery stays within its quota, and that is a conservation benefit. Conflating commercial successes with recreational failures is a false premise.

  • Bill Tucker

    Anyone who dislikes paying for harvest privileges should probably not own a commercial fishing business. ITQ’s are simply permits, and permits have value. Many, perhaps most commercial fishing permits can be purchased from other fishermen. Much like an aspiring young Gulf Stone crabber, or lobster fisherman must buy or lease trap tags from another fisherman who was issued the tags, snapper fishermen must buy allocation from other licensed fishermen to land the fish. In this fashion effort is shifted, not added. The comparison holds true for many commercially significant fisheries with limited entry and a fixed number of permits. Before the Gulf Snapper ITQ program, fishermen had to buy or lease a red snapper endorsement from another fisherman in order to legally land red snapper, otherwise, they could not land the fish. But simply comparing the realities of a limited entry fishery, to an imagined utopia where everyone has unfettered and free access to a limited resource, is a pipe dream, and displays a shallow understanding of effort management.

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