Accountability hot topic at NOAA workshop

Tina Harbuck
Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis, at far right, discusses one of the many topics brought up at the NOAA Fisheries workshop held at the Destin Community Center. Also pictured are Capt. Scott Whitehurst and David Krebs of Aeiral Seafood. [TINA HARBUCK/THE LOG]

In an effort to increase the information flow between scientists and the fishermen, members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sat down with about a dozen folks at the Destin Community Center to hash out a few ideas during a recent workshop.

“We want to hear from you,” said Mandy Karnauskas of NOAA.

During the workshop the group looked at what some of the major factors are affecting the fishery, biologically and sociologically. They also discussed major risks and how changes in the ecosystem affect businesses and communities.

The NOAA scientist put together a flow chart of sorts, which showed how one thing affects another.

The whole flow chart worked around the idea of having an “abundance of reef fish.”

“Without fish we have no business,” said Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis, a retired charter boat captain who also has sons in the seafood restaurant business. “It affects everyone, not just the professional fishers. There’s a direct correlation between reef fish abundance to the overall socio impact on every coastal community in the United States of America.”

“You certainly wouldn’t have a tackle business if you weren’t catching something,” added David Krebs of Ariel Seafood Market.

The group looked at what has affected the fishery from hurricanes to red tide episodes.

Hurricanes, such as Michael that blew through last year, pushed the grouper over from the east. And red tide affected the bay last year.

One aspect they discussed that seemed to affect a lot of the moving pieces on the flow chart was “regulatory discards.”

For example, the red snapper, which has a short season of just a couple of months, has to be tossed back if an anglers have reached their limit, the fish is not in the size specifications or it’s just not in season.

Dewey Destin, a former fisherman and longtime restaurant owner, said the majority of the fish tossed back because of the time discards do not live.

“There are more that don’t live than what we bring over the rails,” Destin said.

He said 80 to 90 percent of discards die.

“And a dead fish is a dead fish,” Krebs said. “It’s not doing anybody any good if it’s floating in the water. How do you manage something that you don’t know how many is dying?

“The problem is we have a fishery that encourages discard fish,” he added.

On the biological side of things, the group pointed to the salinity of the water, warmer water and down flow from the Mississippi River in addition to the invasion of lionfish.

“The lionfish are affecting the reef fish,” said City Councilman Parker Destin. “They’re eating all the juvenile fish."

“We’ve been catching bait here for generations,” Dewey Destin said. “But you don’t see the large banks of bait fish anymore,” he said.

Parker Destin eluded to climate change and change in the water temperature as a cause for the lack of bait fish. But he said they are seeing fish, crabs and lobster that they didn’t in years past.

The group also pointed out that there is more pressure on fish today. It was noted that it’s easier to find fish with all the new electronics plus there are more boats on the water, especially on the recreational side.

“State guide boats are so easy to get into,” said Capt. Scott Whitehurst, who runs one himself.

Whitehurst said when he got into the business years ago there were only about a dozen or so. Now the numbers reach into the 100s.

Another state guide boat captain who was in attendance said there is less overhead to get into a state boat.

What it all boils down to reach that abundance of reef fish is “accountability of all fishers,” Jarvis said, noting more accountability equals more access.

“Accountability and sustainability are the magic words,” Jarvis said.

Another hot topic they discussed was “effort shift.”

“If you close snapper we’re just going to punish another fish,” Whitehurst said.

“When you prevent access, you have effort shift,” Jarvis said.

But in the end, “accountability is the foundation for all this,” Jarvis added.

Other topics the group touched on were:

• Educating the public.

• Possible fish tags and flexible personal allocations.

• Increasing accountability in the private recreational sector.

• Managing the fish as a complex instead of just individual fisheries.

• Holding on to the heritage of Destin as a fishing community and being able to pass it down and making a living doing it.

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