General
A ‘one size fits all’ approach to fisheries management does
not work. Not all fishermen are alike so different regulations are used for
different types of fishermen. Although most fishermen share the same ultimate
goals (more fish and more flexibility to fish) there are major differences
between how and why commercial and recreational fishermen catch fish. There are
also major differences in which regulations are practical and enforceable for
each type of fishermen. The Council strives to make management measures that
satisfy the needs of the different fishing sectors and as a result, different
regulations have been created for each group.

The very first division that occurs between recreational and
commercial fishermen happens when fish are allocated. For many species the total
amount of fish that can be harvested from the Gulf each year (Annual Catch
Limit) is divided between the fishing sectors. Each species is allocated
differently; for example, greater amberjack is mostly a recreational fish so
recreational fishermen are allocated 68% of the Annual Catch Limit. Red
grouper, on the other hand, is mostly a commercial fishery and 76% of the
Annual Catch Limit is allocated commercially.

Fishing regulations are made for each sector after
allocations divide the total amount of fish that can be harvested. These
regulations are designed to constrain harvest levels so that neither sector
exceeds their allocation.
Photo: Kathy Hoak
Some commercially harvested species are regulated with closed
seasons and trip limits, and some are regulated using a completely different
system. Commercial snapper and grouper in the Gulf are regulated using an Individual
Fishing Quota System. This system is possible because the number of commercial
fishing boats is limited and the commercial harvest is easy to track. In the
Individual Fishing Quota program sector allocations
are further divided up amongst each individual commercial fishermen. Each year,
snapper and grouper fishermen are allowed to harvest their own ‘slice of the
pie,’ which is called an individual quota. Once a commercial fishermen harvests
their quota for the year they must stop fishing, or lease quota from another
fishermen. You can monitor how much fish has been caught so far this year here.
Under this program closed seasons and trip limits are
unnecessary because fishermen must stop fishing when they reach their limit for
the year. This gives commercial fishermen greater flexibility to choose when to
fish, and has stabilized the price of fish because there aren’t seasonal
changes in availability. The Individual Fishing Quota Program is radically different
from any recreational management measures, and it appears to be unfair to
onlookers who have to observe closed seasons and bag limits.
Photo: Capt. Jennings
Unlike the commercial sector, recreational fishermen are
difficult to track, and there is no limit to the number of people that can be
included in the fishery. Recreational fishermen are managed using seasons, bag
limits, and size limits to constrain their harvest so it doesn’t exceed the
allocation. Determining the best recreational fishing regulations is difficult because
the location of fish, tourist season, and fishable weather are different in
different parts of the Gulf. Likewise, variations in recreational fishermen’s
preferences make it difficult to decide whether to adjust harvest levels by
changing seasons, bag limits, or size limits. You can query the recreational catch data using this website.
At the end of the day it is very difficult to make
management decisions that satisfy every fisherman from one sector, let alone creating
regulations that work for everyone. While the regulations are not equal for
everyone involved, the Council strives to make them as equitable as possible,
so that everyone has their chance at a fair share of the resource.