What Happened TO OUR FISH?

An educational series for Coastal Anglers

Publicity has exploded about Red Snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico’s “federal waters” (more than 9 miles from shore).

FOX8NEWS, New Orleans recently televised a series of five investigative reports exposing how our federal government “gifted” our publicly-owned Red Snapper resource in the Gulf of Mexico’s federal waters to a handful of private commercial fishermen (now called the “Sea Lords”). Fox even publicized how this was perpetrated by a secret vote by officials who financially benefitted from its outcome!

The “system” granted over 80% of the commercial Red Snapper harvest from the entire Gulf to 50 commercial fishermen – with no fee! These “catch share” quotas grant them the right to harvest and sell this public resource – and keep 100% of the profits – compliments of our politicians!

FOX exposed how these “overnight millionaires” reaped the huge rewards – and have been reciprocally generous to the campaigns of the politicians who voted to keep this arrangement. They’ve been equally generous to campaigns unseating politicians who attempted to expose the fiasco.  This manipulates our American way of life.

So how are we manipulated? Here’s some of the flagrant problems:

“Catch Shares” squelch competition thus guaranteeing profits to the Sea Lords: How many small business owners are guaranteed profits? How many of you are guaranteed a job tomorrow? Since when are a few people receiving, not only guarantees, but guarantees in the millions?  Fifty fishermen “own” 81% of the Gulf’s annual commercial harvest, worth millions. Their fishing “season” was tripled from 120 to 365 days per year with no daily catch limits. And now, many no longer even fish to “cash in”; they simply lease out their government quota for hundreds of thousands each year. Their rights continue forever and new competitors cannot enter the field.

Without factual data, the “system” squeezes recreational fishing – simply by claiming a ‘tight supply’: Recreational fishermen have been squeezed from fishing 365 days per year with a 7 fish daily limit to194 days per year with a 4 fish limit (2000 to 2007). Now, that’s been crushed to a 9 day “season” with a 2 fish daily limit. Meanwhile the commercial season was tripled from 120 fishing days to 365 days with no daily catch limits. Sea Lords subsequently formed Political Action Associations disguised to be “conserving the sustainability” of the fish stocks. Their objective is to allocate more fish to large commercial fishermen (without fees) by squeezing recreational fishermen off the water.

Consumer prices DOUBLED: When competition is limited, prices go up. Sea Lords lease their catch rights to small fishing operations for about $3 per pound (whole fish weight); that equates to about $9 per pound of filleted snapper. After fish market, transportation and distributor mark-ups, this $9 increase raises the price of filleted snapper to a restaurant or grocery store by an additional $12 per pound.

When restaurants and grocery stores pay double, so do you! (BTW, there are 200 other snapper species available – and you will taste no difference).

Last week’s price for Gulf red snapper fillets was $23 per pound—of that $12 was driven by the Sea Lords leasing out their rights to catch the fish!!! Through this “arrangement”, a consumer’s cost to purchase their publicly-owned resource was doubled!!!! Yet . . . neither the public nor our government receives a dime in royalties – those dollars go directly to the Sea Lords!

The system created “Sharecroppers of the Gulf”: Small commercial fishermen may carry a bank loan for one or two fishing boats. To fish they must now lease catch rights from their Sea Lord competitors. After leasing the catch rights, they sell their whole snapper at the dock for $5 per pound. Of that, $3 per pound is handed over the Sea Lords for the catch right. All that is left is a mere $2 per pound.

In other words, a typical 8 pound snapper sells at the dock for $40 and nets $24 to the Sea Lord (who has NO expenses); only $16 remains for the fisherman trying to squeak out a living (who must then pay expenses for their boat, maintenance, crew, fuel, etc.) The result? Twelve hundred family fishermen have been forced out of business leaving only four hundred family businesses struggling to survive.

Attorneys win – fish lose. The Sea Lords do nothing to increase the fish population that they claim to be “working to protect”.  Instead, profits are invested in litigation. Attorneys representing these beneficiaries enjoy a windfall from the stream of litigation perpetrated to forestall a resolution to this dilemma and to block fish farming initiatives.

Workers can no longer pursue ”The American Dream”. The biggest insult to the American way of life is that employees cannot work hard, save and invest to start their own fishing business, as fish workers have done in the past. Their own federal government cut them out of ever having access these fish; they’ve already been given away! The “regular guy” no longer has any opportunity to start his own fishing business to better provide for his family.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been so manipulated and how many have been hurt. Consumers, fishing industry workers, and recreational fishermen have all been sold out to enrich the Sea Lords and the politicians who are rewarded for greasing the system for them.

Learn more on Facebook at “WhatHappenedToOurFish?” or email us a Recreational Fishermen@gmail.com.