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The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program – the most well-known sustainable seafood program in the United States –announced this week that it has removed the Gulf of Mexico commercial red snapper fishery from its “Avoid” list and now classifies it as a “Good Alternative”.
“The removal of red snapper from the “Avoid” list is an important step for red snapper fishermen in the Gulf,” said Tim Fitzgerald, sustainable seafood director for Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program. “In addition to drawing new consumers to try Gulf red snapper, this recognition will open the fishery to new markets and major buyers that have made a commitment to sustainable seafood.”
The development by Seafood Watch comes as a result of major management changes to the commercial red snapper fishery over the past seven years. Facing a dwindling stock after years of overfishing, a community of the Gulf’s small, family-owned commercial red snapper fishing operations, fishery managers, and conservationists worked together to design a new program for the fishery.
Since 2007, these small fishing businesses have operated under a management plan called an individual fishing quota (IFQ) program with a science-based catch limit that has kept fishermen within sustainable catch levels. Fishermen are given individual allotments that they can harvest when consumer demand is high and other conditions are favorable. The program has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in the waste of red snapper caused by the old regulations, contributing to a rebuilding population and an official end to commercial “overfishing."
Fishermen are benefiting directly from these conservation gains. Since 2008, both commercial and recreational fishermen have seen the amount of fish they can catch increase by 70 percent and fishermen are earning more thanks to stable market prices and lower operating costs.
“The program implemented in 2007 is helping the family-owned fishing businesses across the Gulf of Mexico earn more while contributing to the long-term conservation of the fishery,” said Pamela Baker, Gulf of Mexico director for EDF's Oceans Program. “This announcement will be great news to the many commercial fishermen that have sacrificed years trying to improve the management of the red snapper fishery and it is a testament that environmental solutions can work both for businesses and conservation.”