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Is it fair that Gulf fishermen can fish year-round while we stay docked?

Posted By: Christopher Conklin | May 5, 2011

Carolina Live posed this question to readers during its BP oil spill anniversary coverage, when it explained that the lack of confidence in Gulf seafood hurt Southeast fishermen too.

It's true that Gulf commercial fishermen can fish year round.

Just a few years ago, Gulf commercial red snapper and grouper fishermen used to be in the same situation we are now. They had short seasons, low prices for fish, high costs and trip limits. Their fishery was in the gutter, but they went out in dangerous weather just to barely scrape by.

In 2007 they started red snapper fishing in an individual fishing quota program and things immediately changed. They had a year round season. Without trip limits forcing them to take so many trips, they cut their operating costs. They fished when prices were high. They were able to drop the size limit, so they wasted many fewer fish.

Sure, they also were held to some new rules. Enforcement was more strict and they were individually responsible for staying within their limits and reporting what they caught. All the fishermen I've talked to have said it was well worth the flexibility they gained.

Gulf red snapper stocks are now rebounding. Since the program started, participating fishermen are now allowed to catch 44% more fish. As a seafood market owner who has become more reliant on imported fish over the years, an increase like that of local fish would be very welcomed by me and my customers. 

I like the idea of working with fishermen to bring in local fish when customers want it, not based on an arbitrary season.  I'd much rather support local fishermen than foreign imports.

As our red snapper season stays closed, and our other fishing seasons are shortened, and most of all – our fishermen stay tied to the docks - we need to start looking at other options for our fisheries. IFQs are working in the Gulf, why not see if they'll work for us here?

So back to the question of whether it's fair that Gulf fishermen get to fish year round, while our fishermen stay tied to the dock. What do I think? It's more than fair. They've earned it, and we can too.

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