Last week, I attended my first Gulf Council meeting here in New Orleans, Louisiana. The meetings happen roughly every 2 months, and are where all of the big decisions are made in terms of how to move forward with our Gulf fisheries. The 17-member council consists of 16 state representatives, ranging from fishermen to scientists, and 1 federal representative. Most people believe that this council is all federal members, but as you can see, this is not the case. Those making the decisions have just as much an interest in the health of our local fisheries as we do. This is very important to consider when we discuss changing fishery management from ‘federal’ to state control.
This meeting was focused on a broad number of issues, but on Wednesday afternoon, attendees were allowed to see what the real issues are. Each Wednesday afternoon during a Gulf Council meeting, the floor is open to public comment. Anybody can come in, put their name on a list, and be given 3 minutes to discuss their concerns with the council, as well as the all-ears attendees, such as myself. This was the most valuable opportunity for me as an attendee, as I was able to hear first hand what issues fishermen in our community are concerned with. For example, Amberjack and Gray Triggerfish seasons closed early this year, without any warning. This caused some individual charter fishermen to cancel upwards of 40 trips, costing them over $20,000 of lost business. Many members of the public shared their similar displeasure, and hopefully the council will work to give fisherman more notice in the future.
Another example of the public being a valuable asset to the council process was focused on the Gray Triggerfish issue. Currently, commercial fishermen are allowed 12 Gray Triggerfish per trip. This leads to an admitted process of ‘high-grading’, which is the act of throwing smaller fish back, usually dead, until the boat freezer contains 12 high-pound fish. Since fishermen get paid by the pound at the dock, it pays for them to risk getting caught (which is unlikely due to lack of enforcement) practicing high-grading in order to get more bang for their buck. Earlier in the week, a council member suggested to change the limit from 12 fish to 75 allowed pounds, which was met with opposition initially. However, when several public members criticized the council’s decision against the 75-pound limit, it became evident to me that the weight limit made more sense than the number of fish. 75 pounds of Triggerfish equates to an average of 18 fish, and eliminates high-grading- a good deal in my mind, and evidently, many members of the public.
Following public comment, the council reconvenes on Thursday to discuss changing amendments in order to help reflect the public’s concerns. While a public comment does not guarantee that the council will consider your idea, it ensures that you are heard, possibly along with many other people with the same thoughts. This council meeting’s comment period was understandably sparse, with its host state suffering from the unprecedented flooding. Anyone unable to be present for public comment is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, and a council member will view them. Moving forward, it is important to remember that no matter what your position on fishery issues is, it is paramount to give public testimony at these meetings, if able, in order to get your voice heard. Without the public, the council process would be broken, and I urge you to speak your mind at these meetings. You never know if your comment gives others the courage to stand up for an issue they are having as well, which could result in a big change.
Visit http://gulfcouncil.org for more information, meeting recaps, and future meeting locations and dates. The council returns to New Orleans on Monday, January 30th, 2017.