Florida Sea Grant Extension in Collier County

Welcome to the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Blog

This blog is an opportunity for me to share with you my extension outreach efforts and useful information to make you a more informed coastal citizen. If you have any questions about what you see, feel free to contact me at fluech@ufl.edu.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

About Catch Shares

Catch shares are one of the most talked about (and controversal) topics in the world of fisheries these days. Here in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper, grouper and tilefish fall under this unique management system. But what exactly are catch shares?
Megan Westmeyer, the Coordinator for the South Carolina Aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Initiative recently wrote a very insightful and comprehensive article on catch shares in her quarterly newsletter "What's Cooking?" and I wanted to share it with you.

Catch Shares: Whose Fish are They?
Fishery management, or regulation of wild fish harvest to ensure we have more fish for the future, is a complicated subject with which most people are unfamiliar. It is important for chefs to understand fishery management because it affects the price, availability and seasonality of seafood products. Fisheries, the wild populations of fish and shellfish that we harvest for food and recreation, are a common property resource. They are “owned” jointly by everyone – everyone has a right to use these resources. Unfortunately, if everyone used as much as they wanted, whenever they wanted, marine fish and shellfish populations would collapse and there would not be enough seafood left for others or future generations. This is often called the tragedy of the commons – when an individual’s personal interest conflicts common property resources for the public good – to provide seafood now and in future generations. In the U.S., fishery management occurs at the state and federal levels, as well as internationally for highly migratory fish like tuna and swordfish.
 Fishery management regulations typically take the form of limits on who can fish, when and where they can fish, what kind of gear can be used, how many fish can be caught, and how large the fish must be in order to be kept. These regulations are designed to ensure that enough of each species remain in the ocean each year to reproduce and yield future generations, so that we can continue to harvest indefinitely. Regulations are also designed to protect the ocean habitats and other species that are not of commercial or recreational interest but are required for the health of seafood populations. Many of the regulations do limit or deny access to these common property resources, but they are necessary to protect the resources for future generations. Scientific research is needed for successful fishery management. Scientists must collect a great deal of data, including biological information on the fish, information on what species and how much the fishermen catch (this is called “fishery dependent” data), scientific survey data on fish populations in the wild (this is called “fishery independent” data) and social and demographic data on the business aspects of the fishery. Next, scientists create mathematical models that simulate the fishery based on all the data that have been collected, and the model is used to project what the population is likely to do in the future if fishing continues. Those projections are used to determine how many fish can be caught each year and if any other restraints on harvest are needed (like minimum size limits to ensure that fish are mature and have had a chance to reproduce before they are harvested).
In addition, scientists also consider if there are habitats that are critical for the health of the population that need to be protected. One of the most effective ways to regulate a fishery is development of an Annual Catch Limit, often abbreviated as ACL. This limits the number of fish or pounds of fish that can be harvested each year from a particular population. After the ACL is harvested, the fishery is closed until the next year. This ensures there will be enough fish left to reproduce and create future generations. ACLs can be difficult to enforce because there are multiple boats fishing at the same time, often out at sea for days or weeks, and harvest reports can be delayed. In addition, fishermen are competing against one another in a race to capture a portion of the commonly held ACL, which can lead to very fast paced fisheries that only last a few months (this has become the case in both the local vermilion snapper and golden tilefish fisheries). The government does try to track harvest levels in a timely manner, but  overharvests do occur.
 There is a type of fishery management regulation, called a Catch Share (or Individual Quota), which can reduce or eliminate this overharvest. Catch Shares are being implemented around the country and chefs and consumers may begin to hear more about this type of management. A Catch Share program is not a biological control on fishing (like an Annual Catch Limit); it is a method of allocating the Annual Catch Limit to specific fishermen. Instead of all fishermen competing against one another in a race to catch part of the commonly held ACL, often called derby fishing, each fisherman is allocated a specific percentage of the ACL. As the ACL changes, the actual poundage allocated to each fisherman will change accordingly. If the ACL goes up, each fisherman gets to catch more based on their percentage, or share, of the catch; if the ACL goes down, everyone has to catch less. Catch Shares are controversial because they allocate a public  resource to private individuals. This allocation, by law, is not a “right” (something which cannot be taken away), but it does give individuals long-term, exclusive access to a common property resource. In some cases Catch Shares are treated as property rights, being bought and sold, used as collateral for loans, left to heirs, etc. This is an advantage for those who hold shares, but can make it difficult and expensive for new or young fishermen to get shares and enter a fishery. One of the most difficult aspects of implementing a new Catch Share system is determining how the initial allocations will be made. Typically allocations are based on catch histories – but during what time frame? In fisheries that are depleted, fishermen who were historically active may have chosen to avoid a specific fish for the last 10 years in order to help it recover, while some other fishermen continued to target it. However, if a new Catch Share system allocation only considers the last 10 years (as the current fishermen, who might have a greater say, would likely advocate), those fishermen who sacrificed to achieve conservation goals could be eliminated from the fishery.
Ecological Aspects
Catch Shares can reduce overharvest by simplifying accountability in a fishery. Because each fisherman, or each boat, knows exactly how much they are allowed to catch each year, overharvests are less common and individuals can be held accountable if overages occur. There are other methods of preventing overharvest, such as real-time reporting of harvest, but they can be complicated and expensive (though the same can be said of implementing Catch Shares). Catch Shares can give fishermen a strong investment in the sustainability of the ocean because they are guaranteed a return – in other words, Catch Shares tie economic incentives to environmental protection. One of the other advantages touted by Catch Share proponents is that fish populations rebuild faster and are maintained at healthier sizes when fishermen are not racing to compete with each other. Fishermen reduce the amount of fish that are discarded by improving their fishing methods and reduce their impact on the ecosystem if they are able to use less gear and avoid sensitive habitat areas. Opponents of Catch Share systems claim that there are other methods of achieving all of these same results, without privatizing a fishery. In addition, fishermen in Catch Share systems may practice “high grading” – discarding of a less valuable item (because of size or quality) that has already been harvested, when a more valuable item of the same species is caught later in the fishing trip. Because they are no longer in a race to compete with others, they can take more time to seek out the highest value fish, crabs etc. and discard the less valuable ones before they return to shore and report their harvest.
Social Aspects
Proponents also claim that Catch Shares result in full-time, stable, and higher-paying commercial fishing jobs. This can occur when the fishery is initially in a state of overcapacity – meaning that there are more fishermen in the industry than can be supported full-time by the allowed amount of harvest. Some fishermen are part-time fishers and have to supplement their income by working in other fisheries or other industries. When a Catch Share system is implemented, those part-time fishermen receive a small amount of quota and often end up selling their shares to other fishermen, naturally reducing the capacity in the fishery and allowing other fishermen to have more stable, possibly full-time employment, with higher earnings.
While this may create a full-time fishery that can regularly supply our communities with seafood, it also results in unemployment for some fishermen. In addition, “permit stacking” can consolidate the quota into even fewer hands, including absentee owners who merely employee captains and crews to fish their shares. Permit stacking occurs when, in advance of Catch Share system implementation, some fishermen or corporations buy multiple permits (which bring catch histories with them) to “stack” on one larger boat instead of multiple smaller boats with one permit each. This stacking greatly increases the allocation they will receive even though they did not actually catch all those fish. When shares become consolidated in this manner, some captains and crew lose their jobs because fewer boats are needed to harvest the annual catch. Catch Share systems can be implemented with caps on consolidation. But if fishermen or corporations have acquired multiple permits before the Catch Share is implemented they may already hold a large portion of the quota, resulting in a higher threshold. Proponents also tout the safety benefits of Catch Shares programs. Safety has been a problem under open access systems. Fishermen continue to fish in poor weather and forego sleep to a dangerous extent, because they are in a race against the clock and their peers. When each fisherman is allocated a quota there is less incentive to fish in hazardous conditions.
Economic Aspects
Another advantage of Catch Share systems is that fishermen can maximize the value of their catch by fishing whenever market prices are high. Under open access fisheries, where fishermen are competing with one another, large quantities of fish are often landed at the same time, overwhelming the market and lowering prices. A Catch Share system is likely to spread out the fishing season over many months, keeping prices high throughout. Of course, in fisheries that are competing with foreign imports, domestic supply and demand does not necessarily dictate the price and Catch Shares may not translate to any extra value. Even if Catch Shares do result in higher prices for fish, these gains can be offset by increased costs associated with obtaining shares if the initial allocation is inadequate. There is often high demand for shares and prices can be very high. This can put small owner-operated permit holders at a disadvantage if they do not have the cash, or are unwilling or unable to borrow money to buy shares. Share-holders may also lease their shares to other fishermen, instead of selling. But lease prices also can be high, and create a large additional expense. Fishermen who lease quota are not able to charge more for their fish than anyone else, so crew salaries are often reduced instead.
In 2010 Timothy Essington, at the University of Washington, conducted a comprehensive, objective evaluation of Catch Share systems in North America. His study tested the hypothesis that catch share programs lead to improved ecological stewardship and production capacity of the fishery. He examined changes in population size, fishing pressure, the type of gear used, discard rate, compliance with quotas and harvest amount. He found that the average levels of all of these factors were largely unresponsive to catch share management – population status, harvest amount, and fishing pressure did not change in a consistent manner when Catch Shares were implemented. Where he did find evidence of change was in the year to year variation in fishing pressure, compliance with quotas, harvest amount and discards.
 In other words, Catch Shares did not necessarily improve the ecological sustainability of fisheries but did bring social and economic stability to those who remained in the fishery. Catch Shares have been proposed for the South Atlantic snapper and grouper fishery because the reduced quotas and constant opening and closing of seasons make it difficult for fishermen to make a steady living. In addition, there are more snapper grouper fishing permits available than can be supported at sustainable levels of fishing (overcapacity exists). A number of those permits are not actively fished – these are called latent permits – or not fished on a regular basis (the permit holder is not making a living catching and selling snapper and grouper). Unfortunately, in order to maintain a commercial fishery where professional fishermen are making a steady living some of these latent or irregularly used permits need to be retired. This has happened in many fisheries in the United States and around the world. In some cases, the government buys back the permits and retires them. Catch Shares are being promoted as a way of letting market forces reduce this overcapacity. But these latent or irregularly fished permits do have fishing history associated with them, thus if a Catch Share was implemented they would be allocated a percentage of the catch. Other active fishermen would then have to buy or lease these shares, increasing costs and reducing profits and wages. One of the major advantages of implementing a Catch Share system in the snapper grouper fishery would be the decreased likelihood of early fishing season closures when Annual Catch Limits are met. It is possible that there would be a more steady supply of local seafood, spread more evenly over the seasons. It is difficult to foresee all the future effects of a Catch Share system. Over two decades ago, a Catch Share system was implemented for the U.S. wreckfish fishery. But the program had an unanticipated result. The managers did not realize that many of the permit holders would stop fishing, instead holding the permits and effectively preventing anyone else from fishing. Now, the ACL for the wreckfish fishery has been drastically reduced because of new mathematical modeling techniques that call for a lower harvest than previously thought necessary. But because Catch Shares are allocated as percentages, the active fishermen will no longer receive enough quota to make a living. A new regulation has been proposed to revoke the shares held by inactive fishermen and award them to active fishermen, but there is no guarantee this regulation will be passed or become effective in time to preserve the livelihoods of the active fishermen.
There are numerous advantages and disadvantages to Catch Share systems. They are not a cure for everything that ails fisheries and can bring substantial drawbacks, but there can be substantial benefits as well. Fishery managers have known for a long time that we do not manage fish; we manage fishermen in a vital and dynamic system of food production. A Catch Share system must be designed very carefully, and only if supported by the fishermen who would be affected. Yet, we must acknowledge that we cannot predict every impact and there may be unforeseen complications, thus systems need to be designed with flexibility and modified if necessary.

If you would like to receive Megan's "What's Cooking?" quarterly newsletter email her at:

To view which fisheries in the United States are under catch share programs visit:


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recording: Florida's Mackerel Fishery Webinar

Did you know Florida's commercial fishermen landed over nine million pounds of king and Spanish mackerel in 2010 with an estimated dockside over over $11 million dollars? Did you know that mackerel is a rich source of vitamins and minerals such as selenium, niacin, and B12, and that its a lean fish with dark meat and full flavor?If you would like to learn more about mackerel check out the recording of my colleague and I's brown bag webinar on Florida's mackerel fishery. The goals of the webinar are:
1.Increase your knowledge of basic mackerel biology and ecology
2.Enhance your understanding of the trends, importance, and management of Florida’s mackerel fisheries
3.Make you a more informed consumer in the purchasing and handling of mackerel

To access the recording of the webinar click HERE
The program we use is called Blackboard Collaborate. To make sure you have the necessary software to view and listen to the webinar, please visit: http://support.blackboardcollaborate.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=8336&task=knowledge&questionID=1251

Recordings of Past Webinars
To view previous webinars in the Florida Seafood Brown Bag Webinar Series

Additional Mackerel Resources
FDA : What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish (Brochure)http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm110591.htm

NJ Sea Grant: Ice Your Fish: Help prevent Scombrotoxin Poisoning (Brochure)

NOAA Fisheries: Making Sense of Mackerel

Monday, April 9, 2012

2012-2013 Florida Aquaculture Plan Finalized

Did you know that Florida ranks number one in the United States for diversity of products produced through  aquaculture? According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Florida growers produce over 1500 varieties of aquacultured products such as tropical ornamental fish, aquatic plants, clams, shrimp, alligators, tilapia, catfish, live rock, and a variety of other aquatic species. These products are produced for both the food and nonfood markets including seafood, freshwater and marine aquarium hobby, high fashion leather, water gardening, bait, biological control, and seed for national and international aquaculturists to culture, and have an estimated economic impact of over $250 million.

In an effort to support and enhance Florida's aquaculture industry the Aquaculture Review Council, an advisory committee to FDACS recently finalized the 2012-2013 Florida Aquaculture Plan. The plan describes research and development priorities which, if addressed, could lead to the creation of new agribusinesses, greater employment opportunities for Floridians, and increased income for aquacultured producers. The following projects were identified a top research priorities in Florida:

·         Commercialization of Florida Pompano Production in Inland Re-circulating Systems - Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University

·         Pilot-scale Comparison of Three Methods for Controlling Off-Flavor in Re-circulating Aquaculture Systems for Food Fish Production - Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University

·         Removal of Off-Flavor Compounds in Aquaculture Food Products: Optimizing New Techniques for Sustainable Aquaculture Systems – University of South Florida

·         Aquaculture in Action: Enhancing the Teach Aquaculture Curriculum for Novice Teachers – Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University and University of Florida

·         Development and Evaluation of Goggle Eye Grow-out Methods and Feeds Using Recirculating Aquaculture Systems to Service the Florida Sportfishing Industry – University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

·         Integrated Aquaculture of Marine Fish and Plants for Food and Restoration Using High and

·         Low Salinity Re-circulating Systems - Mote Marine Laboratory, Center for Aquaculture Research and Development

To view the entire 2012-2013 Florida Aquaculture Plan visit: http://floridaaquaculture.com/publications/aquaplan.pdf

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Putting a Dent in Derelict Crab Traps

 The blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) supports one of Florida’s top commercial fisheries in terms of pounds harvested and dockside value. Florida’s blue crab fishery operates almost exclusively in state waters and crabs are predominantly harvested using wire crab traps or pots. For decades Florida’s fishermen have annually harvested millions of pounds of the popular crustacean and in recent years have netted, on average, $8.5 million each year (1). While blue crabs are also harvested by recreational fishermen, managers do not have estimates of recreational landings although it suspected to be substantial (2).
 Despite management efforts in recent years by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to limit the number of commercial crab traps per endorsement holder, derelict traps, or traps that are no longer being actively fished, continue to occur in Florida’s waters and cause problems.

Why are derelict crab traps a problem? Derelict traps can have several negative environmental and economic impacts. One of the more prominent environmental impacts is "ghost fishing" or fishing that continues despite the traps not being actively fished. Blue crab traps are typically made of vinyl-coated wire mesh that can have a life expectancy of several years depending on the surrounding conditions and thickness of wire gauge used. Traps will continue ghost fishing until they break down enough for bycatch to escape. These events can result in high mortality rates of trapped crabs and lost revenue for fishermen.

While traps are effective at capturing crabs, they do not discriminate against different sized crabs that enter them. Therefore, traps in Florida are required to have at least three unobstructed escape rings installed in them to allow sublegal crabs to escape.

However, ghost fishing does not only affect crabs. Several recreationally and commercially important species such as red and black drum, sea trout, flounder, and a variety of invertebrates have been found in crab traps (3). Drowning in derelict crab traps has also been shown to be a major threat to diamondback terrapin populations. In addition, traps and accompanying line can serve as hazards to dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles through entanglement, and damage sensitive seagrass and coral reef communities.

Location of traps also plays a factor in ghost fishing rates. Derelict traps can move around a lot and can cause damage to unintended benthic habitats. Most crab traps are placed in estuarine waters near productive habitats such as seagrasses, oyster beds, and mangroves which harbor a high diversity of species. Ghost fishing is more likely to occur in these areas than in more barren areas when left for long periods of time (3).

Besides the environmental damage they can cause, derelict traps are unsightly can pose as navigation hazards to both commercial and recreational vessels. Traps and buoy lines can damage propeller shafts and fishing gear resulting in costly repairs, and lost fishing opportunities. Derelict traps may also escalate conflicts between different user groups such as crabbers and shrimpers or recreational fishermen due to the damage they can incur (3).

 How do traps become derelict? There are numerous reasons why traps may become derelict. Often hundreds of commercial traps are deployed at a time and the gear is left unattended. Visitors and seasonal residents may also put out traps during their stay, but forget to pull them before they leave. As a result, the gear is more prone to loss and abandonment. In addition, traps may be inappropriately disposed of or intentionally abandoned by both commercial and recreational crabbers. Traps may also be displaced by storms, tides, and currents, and struck by boat propellers or vandalized. By remaining vigilant, boaters can help reduce the number of trap lines that are run over and cut, thus adding to Florida’s derelict crab trap problem.

Who can remove derelict traps?
Legally, the state of Florida has very specific definitions of what constitutes a derelict crab trap to protect them from being improperly removed. Crab traps are protected by law, and it is a third degree felony to tamper with someone else’s traps (or their content), lines, or buoys. Perpetrators can also face fines up to $5,000 and have their fishing privileges revoked. According to State Rule 68B- 55.001 a derelict trap is:

1) Any trap present during the closed season for that species
2) A fishable trap in the open fishing season that lacks more than two of the following items: buoy, buoy line, current FWC-issued trap tag (commercial) or identification (recreational), and current license.
Only individuals participating in an organized trap removal program and who have an authorized permit from FWC may handle and remove derelict traps even if it is apparent the traps are not being actively fished. FWC routinely contracts with commercial fishermen to remove blue crab, stone crab, and lobster traps left in the water during the corresponding closed season as part of a State-lead trap retrieval program.

Blue Crab Trap Closures:
To help facilitate efforts to identify and retrieve lost and abandoned blue crab traps in Florida, FWC established regional closed seasons in 2009 for the blue crab fishery. The regional closures last up to 10 days,  extend out to three miles offshore and apply to both commercial and recreational free standing traps  (blue crab traps attached to private property such as docks are excluded from the closure). All commercial and recreational traps left in state waters during the closures are subject to removal by authorized personal. Since 2010 the regional closures alternate every year with closures on Florida’s east coast occurring during the even numbered years and closures on the west coast, including Broward and Miami-Dade counties, occurring on the odd years (4).

How can you help?
If you suspect a trap is derelict or witness illegal tampering of traps, contact FWC law enforcement at: 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). Please provide the location ( GPS coordinates if possible) and condition of the trap to authorities.

1. Florida’s Commercial Blue Crab Fishery-Managing Harvest with Output Controls: http://fw.oregonstate.edu/pdfs/FL_BlueCrabFishery_Sempsrott.pdf
2. FWC-Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. A Stock Assessment for Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus, in Florida Waters; http://www.fwc.state.fl.us/media/316334/StockAssessment2007.pdf
3. Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission: The Blue Crab Fishery of Gulf of Mexico: http://www.gsmfc.org/publications/GSMFC%20Number%20096.pdf
4. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Commercial Regulations for blue crab: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/commercial/bluecrab/