Last week, Government Accountability Office (GAO) staff attended the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting in Destin, Florida to learn more about the different stakeholder perspectives on fishery reallocations. Their presence was a direct result of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, also known as the Modern Fish Act, which was signed into law by the President late last year.
Specifically, Section 101 of the Modern Fish Act (P.L. 115-405) requires the GAO to conduct a study on the allocation of mixed-use fisheries for Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic fisheries. The GAO must recommend criteria the Regional Fishery Management Councils may use for “allocating or reallocating fishing privileges in the preparation of a fishery management plan or plan amendment, including considerations for the ecological, conservation, economic, and social factors of each component of a mixed-use fishery.”
Many current allocations of fisheries resources between the commercial and recreational fishing sector in mixed-use fisheries are based primarily on catch history and did little to factor in economic or social considerations when setting the allocations. Furthermore, many fishery allocations, like red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, were set decades ago using catch history data for the recreational fishery that have since been determined to be inaccurate. However, fishery allocation decisions are often contentious, and the Councils currently have little guidance on how to reallocate fisheries, nor any incentive to do so.
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation Senior Director of Fisheries Programs had an opportunity to interview with the GAO team while at the meeting. “They asked some really good questions,” said Chris Horton. “I tried to make it clear that we in the recreational fishing community are not advocating for any particular outcome, but rather a science-based, rigorous process with accepted metrics that results in our public trust resources being allocated to the greatest benefit to the nation.”
The GAO team plans to attend the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting in Stuart, Florida next week to gather stakeholder perspectives from the east coast of Florida to North Carolina. The GAO report to Congress regarding fishery reallocation recommendations is due at the end of 2019.
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