Charter, private fishing boats may be regulated separately listen11/08/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Florida is dubbed the fishing capital of the world, but overfishing has threatened this key industry for years. Charter fishing boat operators, environmental groups, and other stakeholders are meeting in Tampa this week to discuss a policy that may change the way fishing is regulated.
The concept is called "sector separation." It would result in a separate set of rules for those who, say, fish off bridges or their own boats, and those who make a living taking people out on charter boats. Elizabeth Fetherston is Deputy Director of the Ocean Conservancyâ€™s Fish Conservation Program. She says one advantage of sector separation is that charter boats are easier to regulate, given the extensive permitting they undergo.
"You know who they are, you know where they are. They have a boat slip, you know where they are fishing from, so maybe you can collect data just on that group and you can manage their fishing differently based on whatever their needs are. They have a different motivation, they're a business."
This, she says, isnâ€™t the case with recreational fishers.
"We don't know who they are, we don't know where they are. We know they're fishing, we know they're catching stuff, so maybe there's a way to manage each group differently so that you can make sure both of them stay within some science based limits."
Fetherston says the 1,500 or so federally-licensed charters might account for a fraction of the fish caught, but for some dwindling populations, the data the boats would provide are better than nothing.
"Their red snapper fishery, as a whole, has been over their allowable catch for some number of years in a row. Having some accountability in one part of that fishery is a good next step to insuring the sustainability of red snapper overall."
To the outsider, the concept might sound like more bureaucracy. But most of those in attendance at this three-day workshop are passionate about the issue of sector separation. Some charter fishing boat operators say it would help them stay economically afloat, while many private anglers say it would limit their ability to fish. Captain Gary Jarvis runs a charter boat out of Destin. Jarvis, a major proponent of sector separation, says charters should have their own rules in part because itâ€™s hard to get accurate data on private recreational fishers, who are also subject to fewer regulations.
"We're a limited entry program so we can't get any bigger yet we're competing for the same fish with an entity, the private boat recreational sector, that has no limits on growth. What happens is, because there's no good data of who's fishing, they take these permits and they take fishing licenses, and they extrapolate that out to a certain amount of effort. We don't agree with that extrapolation but it is what it is. What's happened is we're losing fishing days."
Jarvis says the industry would be willing to provide data on where, when, and what it catches, because doing so could mean more days at sea, and thus more money. He stresses that heâ€™s not looking for a bigger piece of the pie.
"It's not that we're taking any fish from recreational fishermen because every fish that's allocated to our industry is going to be caught by recreational fishermen. Because captains and mates don't get to keep no fish. Those people are usually out of state folks and you're talking about millions and millions of tourist dollars"
Jarvis adds that one-size-fits-all regulations fisheries policies â€“ such as closures and bag limits â€“ hurt commercial charters, and thus the economy. But not everyone agrees. Pam Anderson is Operations Manager of Captain Andersonâ€™s Marina in Panama City Beach. She says only about one tenth of stakeholders support sector separation.
"The other 90 per cent of us as well as recreational anglers see it, right now, we see it as an obstacle to having open access to our fishery."
She adds that sheâ€™s concerned that the policy would reduce overall access to fisheries.
"What that means is eliminating jobs and eliminating businesses in the fishery and that is not good for the economy. We've lost enough jobs, we've lost enough businesses in this down economy. We don't need to be looking in that direction. Our fishery is much better than what is said."
Captain Travis Palladino, who runs a charter fleet out of Madeira Beach, says the one size fits all regulations are posing a challenge to Floridaâ€™s image as a fishing mecca.
"We're known as the fishing capital of the world, but we're becoming the fly over capital of the world because a lot of anglers from different states are now going to the Bahamas or Central America to fish to catch fish"
He says having a different set of regulations, like an allotted number of days at sea as opposed to blanket closures, would make it easier for charter boat operators to stay afloat.
"The owners in the charter boat industry are trying to make it to where they can work year round and not really being stuck to where your only allowed a few months of the year. Some of the months that they have to fish in open now are bad months of the year, weather wise. So the dates that are open now, you can't even get out on the Gulf to catch your fish."
In the end, Palladino says the solution needs to benefit all stakeholders.
"There's got to be something equal, something that's fair to both sectors, but still allows the charter boat industry to survive here in the state of Florida."
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councilâ€™s Sector Separation Workshop takes place today through Wednesday. Workshop organizers say itâ€™s an attempt to gather information, and no policy is expected to directly result at this point.