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By Ted Venker
Conservation Director
Coastal Conservation Association

This week, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council made the decision to eliminate catch share programs as a viable tool to manage fishermen in most fisheries in the South Atlantic. CCA supports this conclusion, made by the Council after reflecting on the appropriateness of catch shares for the fisheries typical of the South Atlantic.

CCA does not support top-down decision-making on the use of catch shares, and is increasingly concerned about the zeal displayed by this Administration, and by some in the environmental community, to use this tool in virtually every fishery. The South Atlantic Council should be commended for moving against the tide that has been building for catch shares in federally managed fisheries.

The road to this point has not been simple. Coastal Conservation Association is among the many groups that have been opposed to catch shares, and we have invested a great deal of time and resources on many fronts to lessen the potential for negative impacts of such programs on the recreational angling community.

In September of 2009, CCA filed suit against the federal government against the Gulf grouper catch share program. The Environmental Defense Fund, one of the primary supporters of catch shares, later intervened on behalf of the federal government. The lawsuit, delayed greatly by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, is ongoing.

In October of 2009, CCA coordinated a joint letter from four Gulf state governors to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke expressing their concern over the negative impacts of catch shares on their recreational fisheries.

In April of 2010, CCA and a number of the leading groups representing marine resource conservation as well as the tackle and boat manufacturing community, engaged a number of prominent environmental groups that were promoting the use of catch shares in federal fisheries. The ultimate goal of that engagement was to make the case why catch shares are completely inappropriate for the recreational sector, and to lay out a set of parameters for their use in the commercial sector of mixed-use fisheries. The result was an "insurance policy" of sorts in the form of a letter that specified that before any catch share program could be put in place for the commercial sector, the fishery had to be reallocated using modern, forward-looking criteria, and the commercial shares had to be made available for transfer to the recreational sector.

Also in April of 2010, the Center for Coastal Conservation testified before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Oversight Hearing Committee on Natural Resources during a hearing on catch shares to express "….serious concerns about the potential impact of commercial catch shares on the recreational sector in mixed-use fisheries (in which there are both recreational and commercial components). Our organizations respectfully submit that the Draft Policy Catch Share Policy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under consideration lacks the necessary guidance to protect the recreational sector from adverse impacts associated with the implementation of a catch shares policy in mixed-use fisheries."

In December of 2010, after a long period of engagement with groups including CCA, the American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation and the International Game Fish Association, NOAA released its Catch Share Policy. As a result of constant work by those groups, NOAA's official Catch Shares Policy contains the following language, "NOAA…does not advocate the use of individual private angler catch shares."

Earlier this week, CCA issued a call for its entire membership to contact their U.S. Senators and urge them to support the Jones Amendment, which would prevent the use of $54 million earmarked for catch shares in NOAA's FY2011 budget from being used for catch share programs in the Gulf of Mexico or on the East Coast. Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina filed the amendment, which passed the House of Representatives in late February. Though CCA was not involved in the creation of the amendment, we embraced it as a good vehicle to force NOAA to use scarce funds for more frequent stock assessments, development of fishery independent data and improved recreational catch data rather than highly controversial catch share programs.

The catch share issue has been a long-running saga, and while the action by the South Atlantic Council today is a huge step in the right direction, the issue is far from decided. Progress is being made on catch shares, but recreational anglers would be wise to stay engaged on all levels to keep it moving in the right direction.

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