Project Report:
Safeguarding Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish through Market-based Management
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


Many stocks in the Gulf of Mexico's reef fish fishery (including red snapper, grouper, amberjack and vermilion snapper) are in trouble, with some classified as overfished. In January 2007, Walker Foundation support helped implement a new market-based management program of catch shares, called individual fishing quotas (IFQs), for Gulf red snapper, bringing new promise for fishery and fishing industry recovery. An IFQ for grouper/tilefish has now been approved and is set for implementation in January 2010. The Gulf Council has also initiated a process to include all remaining reef fish in the IFQ.


Environmental Defense Fund seeks to end overfishing in troubled U.S. fisheries by implementing incentive-based fisheries management, or catch shares. Catch shares offer environmental, economic and social benefits to fishing communities and marine ecosystems. In our report, “Oceans of Abundance” (2008), EDF documented how fisheries in the United States and British Columbia have performed against key environmental, economic and social goals since converting from conventional management to catch shares. The results are impressive:
• Overfishing ends. A detailed look at U.S. and Canadian catch shares showed that fishermen catch 5% less than their allowable limits.
• Revenues go up. Revenues per boat increased by 80% due to higher yields and higher dockside prices.
• Bycatch decreases. On average, bycatch in catch share fisheries decreases by 40%.
• Catch share fisheries are more productive. Seventeen years after the implementation of catch shares, relative catch increases on the order of four-fold occur.

EDF’s work to promote catch shares in the Gulf of Mexico is reaping significant rewards for reef fish fisheries. After two years since its implementation, the red snapper Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) is an effective and popular management program, providing both economic gains to fishermen and environmental gains to fish stocks. Fishermen supported a needed reduction in the total allowable catch and the catch share program helped them comply with it – indeed, fishermen under-harvested their quota by about 4 percent (120,000 pounds). The ratio of discards has been cut by more than 70 percent; the price of fish at the docks went up 40%, and the fishery is now open year-round instead of just a few months. Encouraged by its success, fishermen and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council recently adopted an IFQ for the grouper and tilefish fisheries.

In the past year, with a grant from the Walker Foundation, EDF undertook two initiatives to ensure continued success with the existing IFQ and progress toward expanding IFQs to the remaining reef fish species:
• We worked to foster an industry partnership dedicated to promoting catch shares, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder's Alliance, which has enhanced regional and national efforts on catch shares and federal rule-making processes.
• We worked with industry partners to lead a process to design a proposal for adding amberjack and vermilion snapper to the Gulf IFQ program.

Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance
The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance was launched in May 2008, with the mission to improve the value of the members' long-term fishery investments. Its goals are to protect and expand Gulf reef fish IFQs, promote full compliance and accountability, and obtain eco-friendly certification for their fish. The Alliance hired a full-time executive director in January 2009, who has already taken strong conservation positions. In the federal rule-making process the Alliance supports catch shares and full accountability for commercial fisheries.

Industry-led process to add amberjack and vermilion snapper to the IFQ program
We are advocating that the Gulf Council add the remaining commercial reef fish the Gulf IFQ program. The remaining reef fish include greater amberjack, vermillion snapper, gray triggerfish, yellowtail snapper and over 50 other species. We have learned almost none of these species have a total allowable catch or an annual catch limit, thus making the inclusion of these remaining species into the Gulf Reef Fish IFQ Plan a bit more complex than originally believed. We expect this may even lengthen the regulatory process by a few months because NMFS will need to determine proxy TACs for each species and how the fish will be allocated.

The results of the motion made at the April Council meeting will ask the Council for a timeline and process for the industry-supported proposal. If the Council opts to take a precautionary approach and appoint an advisory panel to work on an IFQ for these species, we expect that a scoping document can be developed and presented by October 2009 at the latest. It would still need at least one public hearing and a referendum before a final vote. The Council could also opt for an abbreviated process. This would entail having Council staff develop a scoping document using previous IFQ scoping documents as the template, shortening the time towards a public hearing and the referendum.

This project will be done in anticipation of the Gulf Council's initiation of a fishery management planning process and implementation of a plan to add amberjack and vermilion snapper to the IFQ program in 2009-2010.

A three-page progress report is attached.

Financial Report
Budget Expenditures
Project Walker portion Project Walker portion
Salaries and benefits $22,000 $22,000
Professional fees 50,000 25,000 40,000 25,000
Travel 2,000 2,000
Pass throughs 25,000 25,000 40,000 25,000
Overhead 5,000 5,000
Total: $104,000 $50,000 $109,000 $50,000

This project was also funded by the Walton Family Foundation ($59,000).


Market-based fisheries management makes it possible to protect the environment, increase profits, provide higher quality fish, create more full-time jobs, and save lives. With catch share management, which provides an economic incentive and gives fishermen a stake in their fishery, the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fisheries can gain these benefits. EDF seeks to boost efforts to secure an IFQ catch share program for the reef fish complex by supporting an industry-led IFQ proposal for amberjack and vermilion snapper and a nascent IFQ shareholder association.


Many of America's fisheries suffer under poor management that has led to many overfished stocks. The opportunity to transform the nation’s fisheries into well managed, market-based catch share systems is now at hand. Enthusiasm for catch share programs is mounting among fishermen and managers; the required legislative framework is in place. EDF is working with fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fisheries, the South Atlantic snapper grouper fishery, the New England groundfish fishery, and the Pacific groundfish fishery to unlock the potential of catch shares and move those fisheries away from a tragedy of the commons towards a sustainably managed asset. Building on the success of the new catch share for Gulf red snapper by securing catch shares for amberjack and vermilion snapper in the Gulf reef fish complex, EDF will help advance catch shares throughout the country.

Amount Approved
$50,000.00 on 5/29/2008 (Check sent: 9/16/2008)

  Related Organizations
Environmental Defense Fund  

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Gulf of Mexico Update (Doc)

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Barbara A McCullough
Senior Foundations Officer, Environmental Defense
Jessica Morten
Development Assistant, Institutional Giving
Margaret Henkels
Foundations Officer
Robin Hinton
Institutional Giving Coordinator, Environmental Defense Fund
Sharon Nadel
Grant Writer

Posted 4/1/2008 11:45 AM
Updated   12/4/2012 4:10 PM

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