‘Share’ Campaign Smells Fishy

Seafood industry aligns to restrict anglers’ access to Gulf red snapper.

First, a terrific idea: Future increases in red snapper allowable catch in the Gulf of Mexico would be dedicated in greatest proportion to recreational anglers, helping ensure a longer fishing season for the general public.

This sensible reallocation is taking shape in the form of Amendment 28 to the Reef Fish Management Plan for the Gulf of Mexico.

But there’s opposition: A number of restaurants, fish houses and other businesses, from Texas to Florida, have signed on to what’s being called the Share the Gulf campaign.

Share the Gulf (Google it) is little more than a public relations effort to limit recreational anglers’ access to red snapper and, by extension, other saltwater fish. “Own the Gulf,”might be a better name.

As we reviewed in the October 2013 issue, the federal government has granted year-round ownership of fishing rights to a few hundred industrial players who possess permits to catch and sell red snapper. They can land fish in quantities far above what average citizens are allowed. They can fish during closed seasons, when citizens aren’t allowed to do so. Adding to the sting, the snapper they catch may even be the product of artificial reef development paid for in part by recreational fishing license revenues, as well as Sportfish Restoration Funds, excise taxes on fuel and fishing gear.

A little snapshot of what’s behind this Share the Gulf campaign:

Baystar Restaurant Group, for instance, runs and supplies seafood to the Island Way Grill, Salt Rock Grill and some other restaurants in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area. According to the Baystar website, the group is led by Frank Chivas. Share the Gulf lists Chivas as Florida Co-Chair, and his name—with corporate address for Baystar—is on the federal roster of red snapper shareholders. Baystar’s website distinguishes its restaurants by promoting fresh fish delivered largely by its own fleet of boats.

Chivas’ firm certainly stands to profit by increases in the Gulf red snapper population: As the National Marine Fisheries Service raises the total allowable catch, there’ll be more snapper for the boats and the restaurant patrons.

But if you prefer catching your own red snapper, there’s a wrinkle.

With the federal government reserving 51 percent of the Gulfwide red snapper catch for the Baystar supply chain and other links in the commercial seafood industry, recreational anglers are left with absurdly short seasons. Starting on June 1, 2013, recreational red snapper was open for all of 28 days. A 15-day season was also announced, on short notice, in October.

Federal data-crunchers tell us that the rising weight of red snapper, under the rebuilding program, contributes to heavier landings by recreational anglers. As the allowable catch is expressed in terms of weight, that means seasons close earlier.

The science behind the red snapper rebuilding plan has been—and continues to be—disputed, by recreational and commercial fishers alike.

But as the fishery management ship steams forward into 2014, the dispute over snapper abundance will take a back seat to decisions over who gets to catch fish: those who sell’em, or those who just like to drop a line on a free weekend.

And, we’d say, those non-commercial catches are far more valuable in terms of overall benefits, according to numerous socio-economic studies.

The Gulf Council is currently reviewing Amendment 28, and in 2014 we expect there will be ample opportunities to comment on it, both by email and in person at public meetings. If you love fishing for red snapper, you really need to be involved. For a synopsis of the alternatives, see Newsroom at joincca.org. FS