October 20, 2015       (Updated October 25, 2015, Summary added July 13, 2016)

Fishing Regulations Rant by Primofish
Mark Primo Miller, Mississippi Gulf Coast

Summary of My Solution to Fisheries Management:
Eliminate User Groups completely. Why have Commercial, Recreational, and For Hire Sectors? All it does is pit people against each other.
Make the Same Rules for Everyone.
Never close any species completely. Implement Bag Limits and even reduce to a single fish per boat if necessary.
Establish small area No-Take Sanctuaries.
Implement Gear Restrictions.
Allow anyone to sell fish.

I went to the Gulf Council hearing yesterday evening in Gulfport. This meeting had 3 items on the agenda. A public hearing on Amendment 39 - Regional Management of Recreational Red Snapper, and 2 Scoping hearings, one on Amendments 41 - Red Snapper Management for Federally Permitted Charter Vessels, and another on Amendment 42 - Reef Fish Management for Federally Permitted Headboats. Interestingly, two of the four pictures on the cover were from my website primofish.com and even shows my vessel.

I had not been to one in quite a while. I used to go and it never seemed to make any difference, the government is going to do whatever they like. There were maybe 20-25 there, mostly charter boat captains. This is different than it was years ago. It used to be mostly the commercial sector. Not a single commercial person was there. Why? Because the commercial sector got what they wanted. They fish year round whenever they like while the rest fish less than 2 weeks a year. According to the Gulf Council, the commercial sector is allocated a portion of the red snapper and they are distributed out to the commercial fishermen to catch whenever they like. This is basically saying that our Government owns the resource and will allow only certain persons to harvest it. It has made this God given resource a commodity that can be bought and sold. I once read that some investors in the UK were toying with the idea of buying the entire industry because they could make 300% on their investment. This would send our resource money out of our own country.

Now the attack has shifted toward pitting the “for-hire” sector against the recreational sector. The move is to give more rights to those making money from the resource once again. At the meeting, the consensus was for Alternative 2, Action 2 on Amendment 39. This is asking for the Council to grant the States authority to regulate the recreational sector but maintain control of the for-hire sector. This initially puzzled me. The only reasoning I can think of is that the federal reef permits cost a great deal of money and have significant value since there is a moratorium on issuing any new ones. Therefore if the States take control, these permits no longer have any value and could possibly open the door to competition from non-permit holders using State permits. Once again, money plays the biggest role in managing our ocean’s resources. Permits should not have a moratorium where nobody can buy them anymore. Permits should be used to fund enforcement and proper management of the resource and determine who is using it. With today’s technology, detailed digital reporting should be mandatory.

Fishing from the sea is not a right granted by man but by God. One man has no right to tell another man that you cannot catch a fish and take it home to eat. Our Declaration of Independence says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” Don’t you see how everyone has been fooled into thinking that the Government controls their right to fish? See a detailed explanation of God given rights at Freedom Outpost.

Species closures are wrong. Our Government doesn't tell the wildlife what they can or can't eat, so why should they be allowed to dictate the same to us humans? What benefit is it to man to be instructed to throw fish back and watch as a dolphin or shark eats that fish instead of you or someone that you sell that fish to? In this scenario, animals have more rights than humans. Most Adults are conservation minded and can implement good judgement on what to keep and what to release. Area closures and gear restrictions will take care of greed and are easier to enforce. If you want to manage the resource because of over fishing, you don't do it by Global Closures of the resource. You implement area closures and gear restrictions. You make one set of rules that apply to everyone. You eliminate user groups completely. Anyone should be able to catch fish and anyone should be able to sell them. We hurt ourselves with Global Closures. I once read other countries were fishing just outside our 200 mile teritorial waters and catching the fish we prohibit our own citizens from catching. That just doesn't make sense. I read the same thing happens in Texas where neighboring Mexico comes into their waters to catch red snapper and bring them back to Mexico. Not being allowed to sell fish is against free enterprise and what this country is founded on.

User Groups complicate management. Currently the commercial sector can fish red snapper year round and keep fish that are 13 inches in size while the recreational sector season has been shortened to a mere 10 days in 2015 and included only one weekend when most recreational fishermen fish! They are allowed only 2 fish per person and a 16 inch size limit. Does this sound fair? At the very least, the two sector seasons should coincide. If commercial boats can catch fish, so should recreational boats. It’s not right for a father to take his son fishing and have to throw back every fish they catch while the commercial boat fishing along side throws every fish in his box! How do you explain our fair government to your son in that scenario? Instead your son watches lots of dead fish (because of their fishing methods) float behind these commercial boats while the sharks eat them and you tell your son that we are not allowed to pick them up to take them home let alone catch our own. Some of these fish are large because the commercial boat doesn’t get as much money for the large ones and they are only allowed to catch 2,000 pounds, so they discard many of the large fish to make room for the small ones. Commercial boats should not have any size or trip limits on what they bring in because there are so many dead ones discarded that are not counted against their quota. Below are some graphs from NOAA depicting the red snapper regulations for both commercial and recreational sectors. Below that is a table showing the recreational regulation changes by year. Much of these changes are influenced by the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, The Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, which required the establishment of quotas for recreational red snapper fishing and commercial fishing that, when reached prohibits the retention of fish for the remainder of the fishing year, and the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act of 2006. See a summary of these policies at the NOAA website. Wikipedia also gives a good summary of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Notice how things got so much worse for the recreational sector after this last modification in 2006. Perhaps it's time for another.

1990 365 days Jan 1 - Dec 31 13 inches 7 fish
1994 365 days Jan 1 - Dec 31 14 inches 7 fish
1995 365 days Jan 1 - Dec 31 15 inches 5 fish
1996 365 days Jan 1 - Dec 31 15 inches 5 fish
1997 330 days Jan 1 - Nov 27 15 inches 5 fish
1998 273 days Jan 1 - Oct 1 15 inches 4 fish
1999 240 days Jan 1 - Aug 29 15 inches 4 fish but size limit raised from 15" to 18" between June 4 and Aug 29, results in high mortality
2000 193 days Apr21 - Oct 31 16 inches 4 fish (stopped in season monitoring and started projecting)
2000 thru 2006 no regulation changes
2007 193 days Apr21 - Oct 31 16 inches 2 fish
2008 65 days June 1 - Aug 5 16 inches 2 fish, season shortened due to State non-compliance (Texas & Florida)
2009 75 days June 1 - Aug 15 16 inches 2 fish
2010 48 days June 1 - July 23 16 inches 2 fish, season reopened on weekends from Oct 1 to November 21 (24 fishing days) due to BP Oil Spill on April 20, 2010 causing complete fishing closure
2011 48 days June 1 - July 19 16 inches 2 fish
2012 46 days June 1 - July 10 16 inches 2 fish
2013 28 days June 1 - June 28 16 inches 2 fish
2014 9 days June 1 - June 9 16 inches 2 fish
2015 10 days June 1 - June 10 (Closed all year for Atlantic)

Flawed Data is used for all these regulations. Everyone agrees, including the Gulf Council, that the data is flawed. They often point to NMFS as the source of the data and that they have no control of the data but they are required to work with it. I understand that this is a daunting task considering the vast size of our oceans but to not even count reefs and oil rigs when assessing red snapper populations is gross negligence. I also look at the data tables in the above referenced documents and really don't believe some of them. Where do they come up with them? If you make the same rules for everyone and have area closures and gear restrictions, then the accuracy of stock assessments will become less of a factor. If over fishing is perceived, then have more area closures, but structure them so that man can still fish somewhere in his area and not deny him his God given right. This drastic shortening of the season was caused because of flawed federal fisheries logic. The recreational sector resource is limited by size and bag limits but it is counted by weight. As Anglers catch more and larger fish, instead of recognizing a recovering resource and relaxing regulations, they limit the take even further. In fairness, here is NOAA's explanation of the red snapper fishery.

Here in Mississippi, all the artificial reefs are built with recreational tax dollars and can only be fished by commercial boats because this year only a single weekend was allowed for recreational anglers to fish them! Since these reefs were not even used to assess populations, one could argue that they should not be included in regulation enforcement. This argument could also apply to neighboring Alabama, the red snapper capitol of the world. Watch this October 2012 Alabama Video depicting their plight before the regulations even went below 46 days. The flawed federal management of this fishery has had severe negative impacts on the United State's economy. However, back to the initial point, eliminate user groups and all this discussion is moot. It is so obvious how user groups completely complicate fisheries management. It was very difficult to keep this wordy discussion this short.

Shrimp Boats were once blamed for much of the red snapper decline. There is not a good answer about limiting their bycatch because nets are so non-discrimanatory. Perhaps shorter drag times or some kind of high tech filtering equipment, but it sure seems there should at least be some kind of market for all this bycatch which is quite large and affects many many species, not just red snapper. We regularly bring beer to trade for this bycatch (and/or shrimp) which is quite beneficial to our fishing endevours. We also make use of their discard by Diving with the Sharks and Dolphins that are eating this bycatch. However, this industry has declined significantly in our area following the BP Horizon Oil Spill of 2010, so it may not be as large a factor as it once was.

Screwing up the natural order of the Sea. The federal government is notorius for being quick to shut things down and slow to turn them back on. Examples include Redfish, Red Snapper, and Goliath Groupers. These actions really screw up the natural order of the Sea. Goliath Groupers in Florida are now becoming a nusiance. They are overpopulating the reefs and eating everything in sight. Anglers can't catch fish without fighting them off (Vid2) and they are now being caught in the surf, a place that is not their natural habitat. In fairness, read this article that mostly contradicts these statements. Red Snapper are eating all the Triggerfish nests and the Anglers are being blamed by implementing closures on those fish too. Read Dr. Bob Shipps blog on the red snapper fishery. Redfish are abundant now that they are no longer being caught in nets, yet the federal government will not reopen the redfish season. This fishery was destroyed by the commercial sector, yet the recreational sector is paying for it. This is a good example for not having user groups. Everyone should be allowed to catch redfish but not with nets (Gear Restrictions). NOAA and the Council also seem to deny the fact that Humans are suppose to be taking from the resource. We are a part of the natural balance equation, yet we are being taken out of it completely by Global Closures. The season should never close completely for any fish species.

Some words about Fishing Boundaries. I wonder how many people know that before 1976 that our Country claimed only 12 miles of territorial sea? The 1976 Act mentioned above pushed this boundary out to 200 miles because of other Countries taking our resource, but guess what? It is still happening. What about State Boundaries? Texas and Florida have enjoyed 9 miles of territorial seas while Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have only had 3 miles. With all this fubar'd federal red snapper regulations, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are now claiming 9 miles as well so they can go non-compliant on red snapper regulations. However the Federal government refuses to recognize it, probably because it obviously has much more implications than just red snapper fisheries management. So now they are looking at this State Managed Red Snapper plan. Perhaps this is a way to avert this boundary expansion. The fact that all 5 Gulf States have gone non-compliant is probably a bigger factor, but shouldn't that tell them the error of their ways?

Science is important though. For instance, we are told by scientists that bigger, older red snappers produce many more eggs than young ones. One 24-inch female red snapper (about 8 years old) produces as many fish as 212 17-inch females (about 5 years old). They also claim that most red snapper caught in the Gulf today are only between four and six years old. They also say that their eggs float and that the small larvae seek out structure soon after development. However, not much is said about the effort to survive thru that first year and what can be done to improve their survival rate or what that rate is. If the fish eggs are mostly eaten by predators before they reach safe habitat, then this egg production fact can be very misleading. What if predators eat all but a handful of eggs regardless of how many are there? Just saying.

Aquaculture of Red Snapper warrants further investigation too. The Gulf Coast Research Lab has cultivated and released red snapper in the past showing promising results. See the GCRL web page on this topic.

About the Author:
Mark Primo Miller, P.E. was born March 3, 1960. His family moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1972 from California and he as been there since. He has an absolute passion for the ocean and all it's life and loves to Scuba Dive and Fish. Initially wanting a career in Marine Science, he deferred to pursue an Engineering degree for financial reasons after reading that Jacques Cousteau was an Engineer first. He started working for Singing River Electric Power Association in 1979, going to Mississippi State University under the Co-op work program. He graduated "cum laude" with an Electrical Engineering degree in 1984, specializing in Power Systems and Digital Computing. He continued working for SREPA full time until 1990 after obtaining his Professional Engineer (PE) status. He has been self employed since mostly doing Computer Services and part time charter fishing. He used to commercial fish but was forced into the charter sector after new regulations forced him to stop selling his catch because more than half his income came from his engineering work. Apparently $15k-$20k worth of annual catch was not enough. He is also an avid amateur photographer/videographer and produces web pages of all his client's trips. He also works for MGFB (Mississippi Gulf Fishing Banks) providing spotter boat operations and reef surveys of Mississippi's Offshore Reefs. MGFB started producing fishing reefs in the late 1960's when the State was not interested in artificial reef construction. Now the State is taking advantage of federal funding to build reefs. You can find out more about Mark at his Facebook Page or view his videos on his YouTube Channel.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. (Jacques Cousteau)