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.

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.

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