It took Capt. Robert Johnson (head of the snapper grouper advisory panel for the SAFMC) more than a few minutes to get this idea through my thick head, so I expect it’ll take me awhile to get it through anybody else’s. I am as fed up with federal government intervention into our fisheries management as the next guy, but here I am calling for us to pay more money, and buy another “license” to bottom fish for the species in the snapper grouper complex.
Robert says it’s time to “Beat them with their own science,” and I think he’s dead on with this idea. You see under the current system, one of the key mechanisms to determine the ACL (Allowable Catch Limit) is to divide the allowable harvest among the number of saltwater license holders. Let’s take the 367,000 pounds of sea bass that we were allowed to harvest last year as an example. The council has no way of knowing how many people actually fish recreationally for sea bass, so they divide the ACL by the number of people that saltwater fish in sea bass territory, and the limit is set. You see, commercial boats have to report their landings, so the SAFMC knows within 30 days who caught what. The commercials’ ACL is pretty easy to manage. It is much harder to count how many fish get caught recreationally. The current direction of the council is to always err on the side of the fish. That’s why they tend to look at how many fish could have been harvested, because they can’t really tell how many fish were harvested. The ACL for the fish in the snapper grouper complex needs to be divided among the boats actually participating in the fishery. Currently I can only keep five sea bass, for a very short season, partly because my buddy down the street, who also has a saltwater license, has to be allowed five for his kayak.
Robert is proposing a paid reef stamp to go on your license so we can start dividing up the recreational harvest among the people that actually participate in the snapper grouper complex. My first thought was probably the same as a lot of peoples. “Why not make it free?” The reason is, then everybody would get one, even though they’re probably not going to paddle their kayak out 15 miles to fish for them.
These two things I’m sure of. The council is overestimating how many people are actually still bottom fishing offshore, and if it costs me a few more dollars, and a little more hassle, to be able to bottom fish offshore 12 months a year, well, bring it on.