In what we at the Recreational Fishing Alliance describe as a “pay to play” version of fisheries management, a Texas-based conservation group has recently gone on record with a radical new approach to managing the nation’s coastal fisheries, whereby access to the resource is offered to the highest bidder.
According to Dr. Russ Nelson, fisheries consultant for the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), a “free market-based approach to managing red snapper and other marine fishes” could create individual fishing quotas (IFQ) for the recreational fishing community, the same as commercial fishermen. “IFQ programs have demonstrated some success in controlling commercial fisheries but restrict access by the general public and necessitate difficult allocation decisions,” Nelson said in a CCA discussion paper delivered to the Gulf Council April 10.
Citing current discard mortality problems within the recreational sector, particularly with regard to the red snapper fishery, Nelson said, “We are facing new, stricter control measures to assure that our annual catch doesn’t exceed the allowable level, and the recreational sector remains without an accurate means of counting the fish we catch.”
CCA’s proposed “free market-based approach” would issue individual, non-reusable tags for red snapper to account for the total allowable catch during an annual cycle. The tags would be issued for public auction every year, and those members of the public who wish to catch red snapper would make bids on the available fish tags. “Let anyone who so desires to place their best bid and distribute to the highest bidders,” Nelson’s paper stated. “Bidders could be individuals, states or organizations.”
Tags would remain on individual fish until cooked and consumed, whether in a residential home or at a seafood restaurant, which CCA explains will allow all fishermen who gain access to the tags to do with the fish what they please. “Those who buy the tags can use them any way they desire — take the fish home and eat it, give them as Christmas presents, sell them, take their fish to a market and sell them,” the paper continued.
The discussion paper’s authors explain that the current method of surveying recreational anglers through the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey could be eliminated, since only anglers possessing tags would be allowed to fish for regulated species like red snapper, and only a certain allotment of tags would be issued during any given cycle.
“It is simple and arguably the most fair and equitable approach. Everyone — anglers, commercial harvesters, seafood processors, investors and conservationists — would have the same opportunity to access the resource,” the paper added.
Many members of the recreational fishing community fear the proposal, if put into policy, would take the common man out of fishing. At the RFA, we steadfastly believe that it is bad policy to rest fishing rights in a select few, and such a proposal, actually delivered before a management council, would create a fishing elite to the exclusion of the American fishing public.
Together with marine reserves, this plan, if implemented, would completely eliminate open-access fishing in America. We’re urging business leaders to act now in voicing opposition to this terrible plan. Some members of the recreational fishing community actually believe this IFQ plan is worth discussing in a favorable light. At the RFA, we believe in the public trust doctrine, the principle that certain public resources be forever preserved for public use.
Jim Hutchinson Jr., managing director
Recreational Fishing Alliance