"Fishermen drowning in regulations" and "Managing fisheries is an inexact science" are probably the two understatements of the decade. My plight is exactly the same as all the charter boat/head boat owners in the Gulf of Mexico (from Key West to Brownsville, Texas) that fish for a living.
Past articles in The Destin Log articulate how we fishermen and the fish are being managed. It also brings home the same shared frustrations of dealing with over-regulation without regard to the "human component" of the resource (i.e. shortened seasons, crushingly low bag limits, high fuel cost and the worst economy since the Great Depression).
Like other captains, the current regulatory environment has taken my 40-year-old charter fishing business from being a viable year-round profitable operation to being barely a part-time job full of uncertainty. For lack of a better word it appears the whole system of managing fish is "broke" undefined or is it?
It is hard to find anyone that disputes that the red snapper fishery seems in tip-top shape and is over regulated. The question that many of us would like addressed is can we find a way out of this derby style fishing system that is not sustainable and move toward finding one that is?
I believe the answer is yes. How do we do this you ask?
Start by thinking outside the box. Clearly, the old way of doing business is broken and unsustainable. You have a finite resource being pursued by a growing number of people who like to catch fish. So what do we do about it?
All it would take is giving the fishermen involved the opportunity to explore a separate fishery management plan. It's the choice of giving charter fishermen like me that have a lifetime invested in the fishing industry the ability to decide when and how we want to fish. A “days at sea” program.
Here is an example using the current bag limits for reef fish and a 48-day season that starts June 1 and ends July 19.
Under the current system of management, it's a derby mentality. The clock starts at midnight June 1 and you make as many trips as humanly possible until the clock strikes midnight July 19. End of story.
This is a dangerous way to operate and it promotes overfishing. If you have a catastrophic engine failure or bad weather, even worse get sick yourself, it doesn't matter because it's a derby that we are locked into.
Now what if we had a say in when we fished? A “days at sea” program would have the same bag limits, and same number of days, just the ability work with our customers and go back to planning a day of fishing.
We do not have that now. Not even close. Under today’s regulations we aren't even allowed to keep red snapper, gag grouper and amberjack on the same trip.
It just doesn't make sense does it? A biologist might have to estimate how many fish live in the sea. They should not have to guess at how many fish are in my fish box.
Every one knows from the top down that the old status quo system of counting fish is outdated, broken and never did measure up from the beginning. That's old news, but the good news is we now have cell phones, laptops and iPads, which are just some of the tools on hand to get real time data to the different government agencies that can use that information to make sound scientific decisions for our futures.
The better the science is, the better the decisions undefined which is a definitive goal for many of us in the charter fishing industry. If the government insists on counting our fish, we must insist they do it correctly.
We need to explore every possible option that gives back to each stakeholder a sound science-based viable fishery management plan. A "days at sea" program may not be the perfect solution, but at least it gives us flexibility for our businesses that we don't have now.
Personally, I would like to bring value back to our fishing business and continue to offer fishing opportunities to the public in a safe and professional manner.
Capt. Billy Archer
F/V Seminole Wind
A 3rd generation fisherman from Panama City