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Gulf Council Hijacks Common Sense


Nov/Dec. 2007

By Doug Olander


If anyone doubts the validity of the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished maxim, he or she doesn’t know fisheries management at least as it’s being practiced these days by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. Here’s a step-by-step recap of the council’s recent decisions regarding amberjack (which prompts me to echo Dave Barry: I am not[[ITAL]] making

this up).


In the late 1980s, sport fishermen voiced concern for amberjack stocks, particularly with a suddenly burgeoning commercial fishery starting to take scary numbers of the hard-fighting game fish. So they pushed for more regulation, including a bag limit for themselves. The council responded by instituting a three-AJ daily bag. It also added some commercial restrictions, but while the recreational harvest in the early ’90s declined by 42 percent, the commercial take went down just half that much. Still concerned for amberjack stocks, anglers pushed to further reduce all harvest, and the state decreased their limit from three fish to one.


In the face of continuing anxiety over AJ stock levels, the Gulf council at its most recent meeting noted that the commercial sector takes a relatively greater share of AJs now than in the past. Could that be because (1) recreational fishermen asked for tighter AJ rules on their harvest while (2) commercial AJ fishermen were annually disregarding/exceeding their own quotas?


But the Gulf council alluded to none of that when it decided to reallocate the harvest of amberjack in a way that rewards the commercial fishery for its overharvest while punishing the recreational side for its largely self-imposed conservation.

In other words, the council voted to cut the recreational harvest even further while fattening the commercial allotment. Thank you, sir, may we have another?


As if that weren’t outrageous enough, one can only marvel at the brilliant plan the council came up with to accomplish this. Having reduced amberjack sport take from unrestricted to three to one per day, it decided to put into effect a novel bag limit of a half fish per day so total strangers in the popular partyboat fishery would somehow have to share any amberjack caught.


In fairness, the entire council did not vote to change the allocation from its current recreational/commercial split; all three Alabama members and one Louisiana member voted to continue the current allocation (while increasing enforcement of laws already in place commercial AJ fishermen). However, the remaining 10 votes including all four of Florida’s members voted to shift the allocation more heavily to the commercial sector.


At presstime, following a unified protest from all factions of Florida’s sport-fishing community, the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioners had announced their support to keep the current allocation (while actually enforcing commercial regulations), and it seems possible that some and hopefully all of the state’s council members will vote accordingly when the council convenes again in late October/early November.


 There still may be time to make your voice heard if you want to let the Gulf council know what you think of a plan like this that would reduce the recreational harvest of amberjack to one-half fish per person per day while increasing the commercial take. If so, e-mail gulfcouncil@gulfcouncil.org or fax 813-348-1711.


Certainly this sort of management, punishing conservation and rewarding

greed, sets a bad precedent, but with any luck, enough council members

will have heard enough public outrage to rethink their vote.

Let’s hope so.