Making a Difference from Working Cooperatively
Benny J. Gallaway
My experience comes from the Gulf of Mexico where a penaeid shrimp fishery operates. This fishery typically ranks at or near the top of the nation’s most valuable fisheries. The shrimp stock is healthy and not overfished. However, this bottom-otter-trawl fishery is plagued with bycatch problems. The bycatch includes endangered sea turtles and other economically valuable species, notably juvenile red snapper Lutjanus campechanus. Attempts to reduce shrimp-trawl bycatch to the extent practicable have included the development of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and bycatch reduction devices (BRDs, pronounced “birds”).
The introduction of TEDs in the late 1980s was a biopolitical nightmare that was extremely contentious and marred by civil disobedience and even violence. Fishers believed that turtle catches were too low to justify the shrimp losses associated TEDs and that TEDs were certainly not needed at all times and places. Ultimately, TEDs were required at all times and places fishing was conducted, except under limited circumstances.
Today, a much better process has evolved, namely cooperative research programs (CRPs). The shrimp industry, for example, has led recovery efforts for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle by directly supporting nesting beach protection programs with capital and in-kind support. This program being conducted cooperatively with Mexico and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been a major contributor to an exponential increase in Kemp’s ridley nesting and population recovery. At the same time, cooperative studies are being conducted with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to confirm the level of shrimp loss associated with TEDs. These studies are not being conducted to develop an argument for removing this gear from required use—economics are given very little consideration in the management of endangered species. However, economics can be taken into account when considering other gear modifications to reduce bycatch that may increase the existing levels of shrimp loss. Considering these preexisting losses has led to acceptance by industry that impact assessments now incorporate a “fairness factor” that was previously missing from the assessments.
Through CRPs, fishers are directly participating in some of the critical research that governs their fishery. What they hear from managers they do not necessarily believe; even what they see, they may doubt. However, they are much more likely to accept the results from programs that they have been involved with from the design phase through collection and analysis of the data to the reporting phase. Further, they are seeing that the results of these projects are being incorporated directly into management plans. The fishery is benefiting from better management resulting from better information, and this information is credible to the fishers since they gathered much of the information themselves as part of CRPs. All concerned have benefited.