As with any commercial fishery, the Gulf of Mexico commercial shrimp fishery has three primary sectors: the harvesting sector (i.e. vessels), dealers/wholesalers, and processors.7 The harvesting sector is the focus of the following description and analysis given that it is the sector most directly affected by management measures. However, that sector has multiple components as well. In addition, though the shrimp fishery is dominated by the use of otter trawls, butterfly and skimmer nets are also important in nearshore waters. In particular, skimmer nets have become increasingly important in Louisiana’s inshore fishery, and their use is spreading in other inshore areas of the northern and eastern Gulf.8 Finally, though most shrimp in the Gulf are harvested for consumptive purposes, a commercial bait shrimp fishery does exist. Since the purpose of this amendment relates to the offshore trawl fishery for penaeid shrimp and its impacts to the red snapper stock, the descriptive discussions of this section are focused on this harvesting sector and the dealers, wholesalers, and processors.
Multiple databases exist by which to gauge participation and conditions in the Gulf shrimp fishery. Historically, NMFS’ Gulf Shrimp Landings File (SLF) has been the primary source of landings data. The Vessel Operating Units File (VOUF) has been another source of information regarding the participation of vessels in the fishery. The weaknesses of these two data sources were previously outlined in Amendment 11 (GMFMC 2001). In general, the SLF provides an incomplete picture of vessel participation due to the practice of consolidating trips in such a manner that the landing vessel’s identity is sometimes suppressed.9 The VOUF’s primary weakness is its reliance on the dockside observation of vessels and their gear for purposes of determining current participation in the fishery, though it is also hampered by the fact that it only tracks Coast Guard documented vessels (i.e. state registered boats are not taken into account). These weaknesses partly precipitated the desire for a federal permit, so as to better identify and characterize the universe of participants in the EEZ component of the fishery. However, since the permit is only required for vessels operating in federal waters, permit data cannot be used to assess participation throughout all waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The ability to assess such participation has been recently improved by the implementation of trip ticket programs in Louisiana and Alabama, and the required reporting of vessel identification numbers in Florida’s trip ticket program. Data from those programs began to be directly incorporated into the SLF in 2002. Finally, possession of a permit does not necessitate actual participation in the fishery (i.e. some vessel permits may be “latent” as a result of an owner’s temporary loss of a vessel, a decision to use the vessel in another fishery, or speculation). Therefore, a composite of all these data sources has been used to generate information regarding participation in the entire fishery, though the focus will be on federal Gulf shrimp permit holders and their activities.
188.8.131.52 The Gulf Shrimp Fishery
In 2002, at least 7,483 vessels (including Coast Guard documented vessels and state registered boats) were active in the commercial Gulf shrimp fishery. Of these 7,483 vessels, 5,086 have not possessed a federal Gulf shrimp permit between the time of the permit program’s inception and when the permit data were most recently compiled (May 5, 2005). The other 2,397 active
7Some companies operate as both dealer/wholesalers and processors.
8Skimmer nets are illegal in Texas.
9See Kazmierczak et al. (2003) for the potential analytical repercussions of this practice.