During a decade of debate on catch shares and individual fishing quota (IFQ) programs, proponents of this fisheries privatization plan have argued that the scheme is strictly for use in the commercial sector. More recently however, the concept of intersector trading policies which would allow commercial IFQ holders to sell or lease shares to saltwater anglers, for-hire captains and organizations has gained traction in coastal communities.
The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) staunchly opposes the national catch share policy as it relates to recreational fishing, and has frequently exposed the guide as having been crafted by Environmental Defense Fund specifically to reduce the number of active fishermen. If recreational fisheries were managed by way of a limited 'fish tag' program as proposed at regional management councils and even implemented in new pilot programs in the Gulf of Mexico, the future of the recreational fishing culture and traditions would be placed at great risk.
"Some national groups have supported the catch share concept in recreational fishing by way of state-established entities purchasing quota on behalf of private citizens and organizations," said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. "Supporting a buy-back program where anglers would have to purchase red snapper tags, either from commercial IFQ holders or from our own government is not in the best interest of U.S. saltwater anglers anywhere."
Stopping intersector transfer of catch shares between commercial owners and recreational interests would help beat back this privatization scheme in support of saltwater anglers everywhere, which is why RFA supports a recent amendment made by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) to HR 4742 which was recently approved by the House Natural Resources Committee. The legislation, with the Southerland amendment successfully incorporated, would mandate that "any commercial fishing catch share allocation in a fishery in the Gulf of Mexico may only be traded by sale or lease within the same commercial fishing sector.''
Donofrio said the amendment by Rep. Southerland would not impact the use of catch shares as a management mechanism for the commercial sector, but instead would only ensure that those IFQ permits couldn't be sold outside of that sector.
"What we have now are commercial shareholders who are getting more quota than they actually need to fish for red snapper, just so they can make money by leasing to private entities and anglers currently shut out of the fishery," Donofrio explained. "This amendment ensures that the commercial sector gets the appropriate quota they need in order to fish, to supply seafood demand, not to supply access rights for others."
RFA believes strongly that the Southerland allocation amendment approved in the House Natural Resources Committee will make future allocation discussions fair and balanced since current shareholders will not have the same market value on their unfished shares. Some critics have argued that the language will memorialize commercial allocation, while still others have claimed the Southerland amendment is an attack on the catch share program overall. RFA believes both arguments are baseless.
"The value that these IFQ holders have now is in the resale and lease outside of their sector, but if the intersector trading is stopped then there should be less need for the full allocation," Donofrio added. "You can't claim to be feeding a nation when you have more than enough allocation already to sell back to the recreational fishermen."
RFA has been fighting this corrupted system since the 1990's when the federal government first gave a select group of Alaskan commercial fishermen permits to harvest halibut, and then allowed those same commercial fishermen to sell unused permits back to the general public.
RFA first met with then Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans Terry Garcia and a group of Alaska charterboat operators in an attempt to fight this scheme, which to this day is devastating the sportfishing fishing industry there with a recreational harvest of halibut comprising of just 10% of the overall allocation with the commercial sector taking the other 90%.
"This particular amendment by Mr. Southerland doesn't memorialize allocation, it simply states that the allocation you have now can't be sold or leased outside of your sector," Donofrio said.
"If the commercial sector wants to manage their annual catch limit by allocating shares to their community that's fine, but this change to the federal fisheries law will completely forbid any recreational fishing catch shares, and that's what we want to end this corrupt scheme," he added.
Click here to see why RFA believes that HR4742 is a good bill for the recreational fishing community. Join RFA today, and together let's fight recreational catch shares and intersector trading mechanisms, in support of America's right to fish.