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Charter captain refutes red snapper commentary

April 22, 2015
By Capt. Bob Zales , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The "scheme" discussed in the commentary by Mr. Brown (4-15-15 issue) is not that the five state plan will destroy the commercial fishery -far from it, as all the states fully understand the importance of the commercial fishery providing safe local seafood to the consumer. The "scheme" is from the many commercial red snapper IFQ (Individual Fishing Quota) owners who mislead the consumers, the seafood houses and restaurants about what they want to do with their commercially harvested red snapper.

A little history. In 2010, the GMFMC (Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council) held a meeting on sector separation, which evolved into the council's amendment 40, which was just approved by the Secretary of Commerce, where charter fishermen and others were invited to participate to determine if sector separation was desired. During the meeting, while on a break, a fellow charter boat owner called me aside and asked that I hear from a commercial red snapper fisherman from Texas on the commercial red snapper IFQ owners plan for the fishery. The commercial red snapper IFQ owners have fully supported and pushed the sector separation issue from the beginning.

The "plan" and the real "scheme" is for the commercial red snapper IFQ owners to control the amount of quota available to the consumer and the excess they want to lease to charter-for-hire vessel owners and eventually pri/rec anglers, called intersector trading.

You see, the commercial guy who talked to us explained that the price per pound of red snapper sold to consumers has a level that is the peak amount available for the highest price per pound. Once the peak is exceeded with more pounds on the market, the price to the consumer begins to fall.

In other words, there is less bang for the buck if too much quota is available to the consumer. His comments were that the commercial red snapper IFQ owners had determined that the peak was around 5 million pounds or so of commercial quota. Their plan, which has been kept close to the vest, is once the commercial quota reaches the peak, they then want to lease the excess over the peak to the charter for hire vessel owners. In order to do this the rec fishery must be divided so there is a separate for-hire sector and quota. Once that is done, which has now been done with the approval of amendment 40, then the commercial industry and some charter-for-hire vessel owners who also have commercial permits and own red snapper IFQs, will work to have the regulations changed so they can lease quota, which will be at a much higher price per pound than the consumer is willing to pay to charter vessel owners.

So, here you should understand the real "scheme." In the meantime, many chefs, restaurant owners, seafood houses and consumers believe there will be plenty of red snapper available when in reality it will not. The true "scheme" is for the few commercial red snapper IFQ fish lords to control the fishery and profit more than they do now. The consumer will be left to either pay extremely high prices for red snapper, buy imports, or hire a charter-for-hire vessel to catch their own.

Capt. Bob Zales, II is the president of the Panama City Boatmen Association and also President of the National Association of Charterboat Operators, the national voice for charter boat owners and operators. His family has been in the charter and commercial fishing business in Panama City since 1965, while he has been active in fishery management since the late 1980s by attending multiple Gulf of Mexico Federal Maritime Commission meetings, other regional council meetings, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meetings and numerous other meetings, providing comments and advice as he serves on several advisory panels.



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