As a commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, I – like all fishermen – face a lot of threats to my livelihood. The BP oil spill is a perfect example. Gulf fishermen also contend with hurricanes, dead zones and market ups and downs. After reading a few recent issues of National Fishermen, it seems commercial fishermen elsewhere would add fisheries law enforcement to this list.
Not us. Why? The fishing rules in the gulf make sense.
Not too many years ago, fishery law enforcement officers were considered “the Enemy”, by most commercial gulf fishermen because there were countless ways to be in violation of the complex and constantly changing fishing regulations. On top of it, we struggled to make a living during a dangerous fishing derby and earned low prices for our fish.
Law enforcement officers didn’t like the situation either. Even they were confused by some of the fishing rules, and because we fished around the clock during the derby, officers had to keep tabs on us at all hours. The relationship between fishermen and enforcement officers was strained to say the least.
Other parts of the country are still regulated this way and, not surprisingly, those who enforce contentious rules are very unpopular.
The big change for us came when we switched to individual fishing quotas, a type of catch share, which eliminated seasons and trip limits and reduced size limits for red snapper in 2007, and 20 other reef species in 2010.
Under the IFQ, instead of focusing on when we fish, or how much fish we have on our boats, law enforcement officers can focus on what’s most important: whether we stay within our catch limits and accurately report what we catch.
Sure, enforcement is stricter under the IFQ, but the fishing rules are simpler and help eliminate black markets. We’re also making more money and fish stocks are rebounding. We no longer tolerate others cheating the rules because we have a financial stake in rebuilding the fishery. In fact, we find ourselves wanting more monitoring – like cameras on our boats and more dockside verifications – to ensure our fishery is managed with a 100 percent accountability system and stays on its rebuilding track. For us, law enforcement is not a threat. Enforcement is actually helping us rebuild the fishery for future generations and improve the fishery’s resiliency to the other unpredictable challenges.
Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance Member