As the broken federal fisheries machine bumbles ever onward, anglers can prepare to hand over more than 65 percent of all Gulf grouper to a small number of commercial interests. Permanently.

Worse yet, we can get ready for the remaining recreational catches per person to drop even further in the future.

Coming at us at full speed is the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program. It’s a supposedly helpful plan to curtail excessive fishing by giving commercial fishermen stated shares of an allocated total catch.

Non-commercial anglers share in what’s left via bag, size and season limits.

The IFQ program as drafted by the National Marine Fisheries Service and its federal regional councils gives out the shares to commercial interests and allows the rights to be bought, sold, leased and even bequeathed, all without bidding or cost.

Try that with timber or another common property and the givers of a public resource might be thrown out of office, or prosecuted.

And yet, with little-covered fisheries, practices such as the IFQ gambit are only feebly challenged.

The grouper giveaway is happening under a smokescreen of deception.

First, the managers note at length that the given shares do not convey title.

Well, who cares if you control the shares indefinitely and even have the ability to sell or otherwise transfer them? It’s ownership under another name.

Secondly, the IFQ gang goes on at length that the overall catch limit could be reduced and thereby cut the number of fish in a share.

In the real world, if a purchased share became worth a lot less due to an allocation reduction, we’d find it impossible to make reductions.

“There has never been any re-allocation in any existing IFQ,” noted Ted Forsgren, director of the Coastal Conservation Association.

What most likely will get cut are recreational bag limits, especially as more anglers enter the fishery.

(See the and Web sites for info on when the IFQ programs are coming up next on the various agendas.)

Meanwhile, the CCA has warned the Gulf Council that it would be illegal to proceed without preparing an economic input analysis as required by law.

In apparent answer, the feds came up with a shell of an economic impact commentary (which did at least show recreational value at $31 million more than commercial output).

Given the NMFS/Councils’ historic bias toward commercial interests, there’s little chance that direct appeals will help the situation. We think that what’s urgently needed are powerful appeals to congressmen, without delay.

The value of our grouper fishing is much too important to see it hijacked by a relative handful of profit-makers and their allies in the fisheries bureaucracy.

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