"There is no way to defend what the Council has done with the management of amberjack. It borders on outright disregard for the recreational sector," said Chester Brewer, chairman of the Coastal Conservation Associations National Government Relations Committee. "Combined with what is happening with Gulf red snapper and the commercial catch share plan for Gulf grouper, this latest announcement gives recreational anglers no reason to have any faith in the federal management of recreational fisheries."
In 2007, the Council declared that Gulf greater amberjack were overfished, yet increased the commercial share of the fishery while reducing the recreational bag limit to one and increasing the size limit to 30 inches. The recreational restrictions were implemented despite the fact that unchecked commercial overfishing since 1990 was the primary cause of problems in the fishery - see Recreational Fishery Hijacked, CCA Press Release, September 10, 2007.
"The reduction in amberjack recreational allocation in 2007 from 84 percent to 71 percent has to be the most egregious allocation shift ever enacted by the Gulf Council," said Ted Forsgren, executive director of CCA Florida. "Anglers were punished for supporting conservation measures and the commercial industry was rewarded for fishing over its quota. The change in catch level was a direct result of NMFS' failure to enact adequate measures to control commercial take and failure to ever enforce the adopted allocation. We are feeling the full effects of those failures today with a closed recreational season."
"If the Council had left the allocation where it was in 2007, and where it rightfully should have been, recreational anglers would not have been over their quota as of the end of August, and likely would not have gone over even by year's end," said Dr. Russell Nelson, CCA Gulf Fisheries consultant. "This is a case where an unwarranted allocation shift from recreational to commercial two years ago is shutting down our season, even though we are not the root cause of the problem."
Adding to the frustration of anglers is the fact that last year's recreational harvest was under the quota, but that underage is not being taken into account this year. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, catch overages and underages from previous years may be calculated in the following year's harvest limits, but doing so is not mandatory. In the case of Gulf red snapper, however, two years of recreational overages will result in a dramatically shortened season in 2010.
"The one-sidedness of federal fisheries management is at a level that makes it almost impossible to believe recreational interests will ever be considered in any meaningful way," said Brewer. "No fishery has ever been overfished by recreational angling alone, and any number of economic studies indicates that the recreational sector is by far the most valuable part of our marine fisheries. And yet, fishery after fishery is closing down for anglers while the Councils bend over backwards to keep the longlines and nets in the water. In the eyes of many recreational anglers, the federal management system is on the edge of a total breakdown."