May 1, 2008

Council looks at allocations that could further reduce catch limits 


Commercial and recreational fishermen could see lower catch limits for some South Atlantic species under a proposal to reserve a percentage of the total allowable catch as a conservation buffer.

The proposal, narrowly approved by the Allocation Committee of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), was one of several major changes made to a draft “comprehensive allocation amendment” when the committee met in North Charleston, S.C., earlier this month.

The full council will review the changes at a meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June.

The total allowable catch limit is set by scientists who review biological data to determine the number of fish that can be harvested without jeopardizing the health of the stock.

The allocation amendment will identify how the SAFMC splits total catch limits for species like vermilion snapper, black sea bass, and king mackerel between commercial and recreational fishing sectors.

For some species, the council could approve a total catch limit lower than the biological limit.

The difference would be an allocation to conservation.

“There could be instances where the biological catch limit was so low that managing the fishery would be extremely difficult, so the council might shut the fishery down for several years, allocating to conservation,” explained Brian Cheuvront, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries representative on the SAFMC and chairman of the Allocation Committee.

The committee also recommended a distinct “for-hire” sector category for allocations to headboats and charter boats.

All told, the SAFMC could consider allocations to four sectors – commercial fishing, private recreational fishing, for-hire fishing, and conservation.

How the total catch limit is split between sectors would be based on the council’s judgment and sense of fairness and equity, under the committee’s recommendations.

Economic information, landings data, and other factors could be considered.

The council’s opinion on what South Atlantic fisheries should look like in the future also would drive allocation decisions.

But agreement on a vision for the future by the 17-member Council promises to be controversial.  Council members include commercial and recreational fishermen and marine resource agency representatives from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  

“At the end of our committee meeting, we discussed what fisheries should look like in the future, and opinions were all over the place,” Cheuvront said.

And, the council might not have much economic data to work with.

“There isn’t much socio-economic information available, and for some species there is none at all.  To get the necessary data collected will require a strong commitment from the states and the federal government,” said Cheuvront.

North Carolina is one of the few states with a fisheries socio-economic program.

The Allocation Committee recommended that, after the necessary data is available, economic net benefit analyses could be used in setting allocations.

Hatteras commercial fisherman Jeff Oden expressed concern that attaching a monetary value to the benefits and costs of fishing doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Using an economic analysis to make fisheries allocations doesn’t turn allocation systems into impartial, science-driven decisions.  Regulators need to own up to the social and political issues in these decisions,” he said. 


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