CAPTAIN'S LOG: Gulf Council should say ‘no’ to red snapper shift

David Krebs and Gary Jarvis

As it meets this week in Houston, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is considering changes to how the Gulf red snapper fishery is allocated, or shared, between the commercial sector and the recreational sector. The change is called Amendment 28, and we recommend that the Council take a cue from medical ethics, which teaches physicians to “first, do no harm.”  

We understand that managing the fishery is a tricky and political process. But Amendment 28 will do little to help recreational fishermen and will certainly do harm to the local seafood industry in the Gulf and the millions of Americans who buy, sell and enjoy fresh Gulf snapper in restaurants and grocery stores around the country. 

Most of the fishing businesses that harvest fish to supply restaurants and grocery stores with Gulf seafood are small businesses. These “commercial fishermen” share the annual catch for Gulf fish with individual fishermen, charter captains and guides — together known as the “recreational fishing sector.” For Gulf of Mexico red snapper, the division between seafood and recreational sectors is nearly right down the middle — 51 percent to 49 percent. A proposal before the council would shift (reallocate) more of the total catch to the recreational sector at the expense of everyone else. 

Just a few years ago, the snapper fishery was near collapse. But thanks to painful but necessary catch limits, a cooperative approach and some new ideas, local seafood businesses like ours have rebounded. We now have more flexible schedules, harvesting costs have gone down, fresh snapper is available at restaurants year-round and the number of red snapper in the Gulf continues to climb. All great news. 

The success on the commercial side has also meant more fish for everyone, including recreational anglers, but they are not enjoying all the benefits. They are suffering from a failed management system that is making seasons for red snapper shorter and shorter. Even with more fish, the recreational season will continue to shrink over time because anglers are still stuck.

Anglers want new management options for their fishery, but the Gulf Council continues to be bogged down debating reallocation schemes that have no hope of solving the fishery’s problems. Amendment 28 will not provide longer seasons for anglers in the long-term and does nothing but hurt seafood harvesters along with the families and communities that rely on it.  

To stand up for meaningful solutions and fairness, we’ve joined a coalition of hundreds of chefs, restaurateurs, restaurant associations, seafood businesses, fishermen, conservationists, local food advocates and consumers who want to keep the local Gulf seafood industry fair and strong. The “Share the Gulf” coalition was launched to raise awareness of and build support for local fishing businesses and the restaurants, grocery stores, tourism businesses and consumers that depend on fair access to fresh Gulf seafood.

Thanks to new ideas and approaches approved by the Gulf Council, the Gulf red snapper fishery is certainly improving. We need to build on this positive momentum by making the management system better, stronger and smarter. There’s still a lot of work to be done to improve the fishery for recreational anglers.  

We need our Gulf Council members to stand up against these reallocation schemes and get the council to focus on real solutions for recreational fishermen that will actually extend seasons and improve data.  

Taking fish away from seafood providers and the customers they serve is not a change for the better. It won’t improve the health of the fishery, and it could threaten the ability of millions of Americans that want to enjoy the bounty of a healthy Gulf of Mexico. 

David Krebs is a commercial fisherman from Destin and owner of Ariel Seafood. Gary Jarvis is a charter captain from Destin and owner of the Back Down 2. Both are members of the Share the Gulf coalition.