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Don’t mess with Texas fish, either


Watch PERC’s “Saving Ocean Fisheries with Catch Shares”

By Preston Mixon and Donald R. Leal
Special to The Daily News

Despite oil spills, hurricanes and a long history of misguided federal rules, Texas’ commercial fishermen are doing better than ever thanks to new management based on free-market principles and local control. If you’re like us, you think these are priorities for the current U.S. Congress.

Instead, a backdoor amendment on the current budget is threatening Texas’ coast by promoting fiscal irresponsibility and heavy-handed government control. Texas needs to act now to undo this Washington, D.C., interference.

From Brownsville to Galveston and throughout the Gulf, red snapper are acclaimed as tasty and hard-fighting fish prized by seafood lovers and offshore anglers.

Not long ago, commercially caught red snapper and the local businesses they support were teetering, infamously known only for a chaotic free-for-all to catch fish as fast as possible in annual fishing seasons as short as two months. This “derby” management wasted millions of valuable fish, promoted mediocre quality and favored imported fish over local supplies. This was bad for Texas.

Five years ago, Texas fishery managers and fishermen, with counterparts from across the Gulf, convinced federal regulators to ditch the old system in favor of market-based management in the form of catch shares. The results were immediate.

Now, fish are fresh-caught and in restaurants and markets year-round. Fish harvesting costs have dropped by half and fishermen earn more for the high-quality and well-timed catch.

Overall, the value of the fishery has climbed by 80 percent. The fish have begun to rebound too, and fishermen’s catch limits are rising for the first time in many years. The benefits to Texas are substantial, a much-needed shot in the arm during hard economic times.

We can expand those benefits for Texas and the nation. A new report in the Journal of Sustainable Development concludes that the widespread use of catch shares in federal fisheries would help cut the deficit by almost $1 billion. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that if the nation’s depleted fish stocks are restored via catch shares, $31 billion and 500,000 more jobs could be added to the economy.

Catch shares get rid of misguided federal mandates and taxpayer bailouts. Instead of derbies, fishermen hold exclusive and tradable privileges to harvest a designated portion of fish. Each fishing business is responsible for managing its share, gains the flexibility to minimize costs and can focus on increasing the value of their catch and businesses.

Sounds good, right? People like us are working with other fishermen, states and regional decision-makers to have our say in how to expand catch shares to help other commercial fisheries and charter and party boats that cater to anglers and increasingly face business-strangling regulations.

Imagine our surprise when U.S. Congressmen Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Walter Jones, R-N.C., inserted a few sentences into the federal budget bill that slammed the door on new catch shares.

Texas leaders should help get rid of this roadblock to profitable businesses and keep Texas moving on the right path.

We don’t need Congress micromanaging our fisheries. In fact, the success of red snapper is a perfect example of a locally designed, free-market solution that the Gulf of Mexico is working to replicate, and the rest of the nation is watching.

Preston Mixon has been a commercial reef fisherman in Galveston for nearly 10 years and is a member of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. Donald R. Leal is a senior fellow with the Property and Environment Research Center and is on an advisory panel to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

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