A Fisherman’s View: The Red Snapper Catch Share Program

David Walker.

David Walker is fishing for red snapper under the new Individual Fishing Quota Program.

High resolution (Credit: Courtesy of David Walker.)

Meet David Walker, a commercial red snapper fisherman from Andalusia, Ala. Walker owns the Fishing Vessel June Sue that fishes for red snapper as part of the 3-year-old Gulf of Mexico red snapper Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program.

Catch share programs like the IFQ program set a biologically based annual catch limit for each fish stock and allocate a specific portion of that catch limit to entities, such as individual fishermen, fishing cooperatives or fishing communities.

Walker recently answered some questions about his experience with the red snapper IFQ program:

What was it like to commercially fish for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico in the years before the red snapper Individual Fishing Quota Program began in 2007?

We were fishing in derbies [races] that were intensifying the efforts. We were fishing in weather conditions that were dangerous at times. And, we were more and more limited in fishing time. Everyone raced for the fish. Then we had a market glut. The prices plummeted. We had huge regulatory discards [fish required to be thrown back due to fish pound limits] during the closure times of the year when snapper was closed.

What was the average price per pound of red snapper before the IFQ Program began, as compared with today?

When you take care of the fish, you take care of the fishermen.”

— Fisherman David Walker

I can remember getting prices as low $1.50 a pound. Not long after the implementation of the IFQ program our red snapper prices settled to $4.50 a pound, year round, and the price has remained very steady.

Has the IFQ Program affected the length of the season for red snapper fishing?

Before the IFQ, our seasons were getting shorter and shorter. We were as low as 52 days at one point. Today, our season is year round, and we have a share of fish we can count on fishing. This helps us choose the best times to fish, so that we can get a fair price and also avoid bad weather that brings with it unsafe fishing conditions.

Has the program affected where you fish?

The majority of the fishing from my fishing vessel June Sue since 2007 has been from Destin, Fla., to Mobile, Ala. Before 2007, the crew and I had to fish as far west as Galveston to find red snapper plentiful enough and easiest to harvest. Since the implementation of the IFQ, we have not had to fish past the southeast Louisiana/Mississippi line because we now have plenty of fish, in my opinion.

Has the IFQ Program helped address the problem of fishermen catching fish they end up having to discard to meet catch regulations?

We always fished in the reef fishery, and when we were done fishing red snapper, we’d fished for vermilion and other reef fish. Sometimes we would get into areas where there were snapper mixed in with what we caught, but we had to discard them because we’d already reached the limit on snapper. It was just such a big waste. Individual fishing quotas have addressed our discard issues.

Overall, how would you say the red snapper program is going now three years later?

This program has been a phenomenal success for the fish, and when you take care of the fish, you take care of the fishermen. Fish prices are good, and the fish stock is rebuilding.

Is there a downside to the IFQ Program?

One issue we’re trying to address now is the issue of consolidation. Although we have a cap that keeps any one fisherman or company from owning more than 6 percent of the quota, we want to make sure that someone doesn’t come in here and form several corporations that might circumvent the system. We recently asked the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council during public testimony to form an ad hoc red snapper advisory panel to help address our concerns for the upcoming five-year review for red snapper.

Learn more about the Catch Shares Program here. You can also download this helpful Catch Shares Fact Sheet.

Posted Nov. 4, 2010 NOAA logo.