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For Immediate Release

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New Survey: Fishermen Oppose Controversial Management Plan

Gulf of Mexico Fishermen Vote Against IFQ Plan, Food & Water Watch Finds


Today, Food & Water Watch released the results of a re-referendum on a controversial fishery management plan in the Gulf of Mexico. Designed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the plan is known as an Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, and aims to manage the grouper and tilefish fisheries of the Gulf by dividing the amount of fish caught among fishermen, based on the amount they have caught in the past--essentially privatizing the resource. The re-referendum sent questionnaires to reef fish permitholders who were excluded from the earlier vote on the plan. One hundred seventy-two fishermen responded to the questionnaire. An overwhelming majority--nearly 90 percent--would not have approved the plan had they been included in the initial vote.

The re-referendum had the following results: 88.37 percent (152 respondents) said they would have voted against the IFQ program and only 6.98 percent (12 respondents) said they would have voted in favor of it. Eight respondents, or 4.65 percent, had no opinion.

The survey also asked fishermen if they believed that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council was managing the Gulf of Mexico reef fish resource in a manner that benefits public interest. Ninety percent (154 respondents) said no, 7 percent (13 respondents) said yes, and 3 percent (5 respondents) had no comment.

Permitholders were also given the opportunity to comment on how the privatization program would impact both their livelihood and their community. Many expressed concern about losing their livelihood by being shut out of the fishery. Others were outraged by the unfair voting process and felt that it had been skewed in the interests of those who would benefit most from the program.

The system for dividing the fishing privileges--and the process by which the system was designed--is unfair for many smaller-scale fishermen. IFQ plans could squeeze many fishermen out of business, thus damaging businesses and economies that rely on them. The plan may also fail to alleviate--or could even exacerbate--ecological problems resulting from some types of fishing practices.

Prior to approving the plan, the Fishery Management Council was required by law to conduct a referendum of existing commercial grouper and tilefish fishermen. However, the referendum was designed so that the only fishermen allowed to vote were those who had an active or renewable commercial Gulf of Mexico reef fish permit, with combined average annual grouper and tilefish landings of at least 8,000 lbs during the 1999-2004 period. The original referendum excluded approximately 69 percent of current permitholders in the Gulf--the majority of fishermen whose livelihoods would be affected should the plan be implemented. Only those fishermen who were most likely to directly benefit from the management program could vote. Not surprisingly, the measure passed overwhelmingly. However, the results of the new re-referendum show that this outcome likely would have been vastly different had all permitholders been included.

"The Gulf of Mexico fisheries must be managed in a way that benefits and protects small-scale traditional fishermen as well as the bigger players, and effectively stewards our environment," stated Food & Water Watch Fish Policy Analyst Ben Bowman. "The National Marine Fisheries Service should reconsider plans to implement this potentially devastating program."

Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people's health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

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