If You’ve Seen One EFP You’ve Seen Them All… Right?

With all the recent uproar about red snapper and the management issues facing that fishery, I was concerned about some of the “facts” I was hearing about Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Exempted Fishing Permit, or an EFP, as a possible solution to the limited amount of federal fishing days this year. I had never heard of an EFP before so I did some research to make sure I understood what this experimental program was trying to achieve and where it had come from.

Here are the facts about the proposed EFP. In order to test an electronic reporting system, LDWF requested approval to allow 150 participants to fish outside of the normal federal season and catch 25,000 pounds of snapper starting in 2018. In return for the opportunity to fish outside of the federal season, these participants would report their catch using a smart phone app. This data would then be verified using Louisiana’s current data collection system, LA Creel. This smart phone app would give data collectors almost real time information on the red snapper being caught and thus prove to the federal government, who currently manages the red snapper fishery, that Louisiana could provide accurate data of the catch and be trusted with managing the state’s red snapper fishery out to 200 nautical miles (NM) as opposed to the current state season allowing Louisiana recreational anglers about 270 days on the water out to 9 NM.

When LDWF introduced this pilot program, the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana (CCA) and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) representatives opposed this program. Opponents of the EFP called the EFP an attempt to privatize a public resource and an attempt to give a few individuals an opportunity no one else would be getting. The opposition had tag line after tag line ready to fire at LDWF and this program and were relentless in their efforts to make sure it died on the vine. Articles like this one and this one show the opposition were ready to make unfounded comparisons to kill this program. This experimental program was neither a regulation nor was it law; in fact it was just a two-year experiment. It was not designed to test limited entry, individual fishing quotas, or privatizing a public resource. It was an experiment to test electronic reporting.

What was confusing was why these groups were so opposed to an experimental program trying to achieve what recreational anglers had been asking for, more days in federal waters and more flexibility to fish when they wanted? What I have recently learned may shed some light on their opposition.

Earlier versions of EFPs promoted by environmental groups have attempted to introduce a fish tag program. These earlier versions were going to give recreational anglers who bought a fishing license a certain amount of tags for red snapper that could be fished anytime of the year in federal or state waters. CCA representatives made sure to slam this concept into the ground because they didn’t want a tag program for red snapper because they believed it wouldn’t give every angler enough fish to catch throughout the year. This article illustrates that point.

Could it be that the proposed EFP was a case of guilty by association? When LDWF tried to introduce this latest version the opposition thought it was another attempt at a tag program and were not willing to give it a fair chance since they believed it was the same as earlier iterations. The irony is that those who opposed this program are asking for exactly what this program is trying to provide. They support legislation seeking to improve data collection and management, and they purport to support state management of the red snapper fishery out to 200 nm.

The EFP would have used a subsample of fishers and a subsample of fish. Experiments are always conducted on smaller portions of a population as it is impossible to experiment on the whole population of anglers using the entire population of fish. The detractors of this EFP are so focused on the subsample of anglers and fish utilized in this experimental program, that they cannot see the true purpose is to test electronic reporting. So, in trying to kill a program they think is bad they are possibly killing their chances at achieving their own demands for the red snapper fishery by relying on the whims and vagaries of the U.S. Congress and not a state that is trying very hard to get the problem solved.