SAFA News   |    The South Atlantic Fishermen's Association

Time for better fishing rules

March 9, 2011

Letter to the editor published in the Carteret County News-Times.

TO THE EDITOR:

It's time for better fishing rules. It's time for catch shares.

I'm a commercial snapper grouper fisherman. I own and operate Crystal Coast Fisheries, a seafood business, in Morehead City.

The fishing industry in and around Morehead City is facing very tough times. I know the paper has taken a stance against catch shares, but I hope you'll run my view because I believe it's an option that should stay on the table for fishermen to decide themselves. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meets next week and will discuss the issue, so it's a good time.

North Carolina fishing businesses are facing difficult times. I know firsthand because I've been fishing out of Morehead City for 30 years, and I also run a seafood business.

Short fishing seasons are causing businesses to fail and a scarcity of local seafood, without recovering our fish populations. Short seasons also mean lower prices for fish because fish houses are flooded with fish all at once. Fish we once could have brought in and sold are being thrown overboard because they're "not in season."

Now, we're forced to fish in a derby, competing against each other to catch before the seasons close. If we don't catch the last fish, someone else will and we've got families to feed. It's clear to me that if something doesn't change, we could all be out of business in the near future.

I think we need responsible, flexible regulations that give us more freedom to fish. We need to be able to catch and sell local seafood year-round. We need a chance to run profitable businesses. I think catch shares can make this a reality.

Catch shares are a management tool that will give us back our fishing seasons and protect our fishing heritage, local fishermen and fish. The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council is already considering them for the commercial snapper grouper fishery.

They work by fairly allotting a percentage of the total amount of fish to each fisherman for the longterm. Fishermen can catch their fish throughout the year when they choose and when fish houses, tourist seasons and restaurants need it most. In return for this flexibility, each fisherman stays within his allotment of fish and meets important counting and reporting requirements, which improves science.

Catch shares can also be designed to protect communities and small-boat fishermen. Most snapper grouper fishermen in our area have small boats, and under current rules, we're already at risk of being pushed out of business (or already have been)!

Instead of over-regulating fishermen, catch shares give control back to fishermen and existing regulations — like season closures — are reduced or eliminated. They provide so much control that fishermen can even vote on whether they want them.

Catch share management is proven around the world and in the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf red snapper fishermen have been fishing under a catch share for four years. Before, they were in the same dire situation we are in now. Now they experience all the benefits I've described and run businesses they're proud to pass on to their children.

New fishermen are even buying into the fishery because it's profitable again. We deserve these benefits in our fishery.

The support for catch shares among local fishermen is growing. It's the only proven way we see to sustainably manage the snapper grouper fishery and give fishermen control of their businesses, while stopping overfishing and rebuilding important snapper grouper species.

We need commonsense fishing rules that return power and control back to the fishermen. It's time for everyone to consider catch shares.

JACK COX
 

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