For nearly three decades, Ocean Conservancy has been fighting to protect red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. The stock was formally declared as overfished in the late 1980s. Despite this long and rocky road, 2015 has been a landmark year for red snapper—the stock continues to rebuild as a result of shared sacrifices and innovative management strategies.
In April 2015, NOAA approved a management measure that will improve conservation and recreational fishing opportunities in the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. This management measure divides the recreational red snapper quota between charter-for-hire and private recreational fishermen (known as ‘sector separation’ because it splits the recreational sector into two sub-sectors).
Sector separation allows fishery managers to develop individually tailored strategies for the needs of the unique charter-for-hire and private recreational components, which in turn will prevent continued catch-limit overages and foster continued rebuilding of this iconic Gulf species.
Sector separation has paved the way for far greater accountability in the charter-for-hire fishery, which in turn allows for better predictability of fishing seasons and greater access to the fishery as the stock continues to rebuild. The private recreational component stands to reap the same benefits from sector separation as fishery managers continue to develop tools and techniques to increase accountability amongst private recreational anglers and to prevent any future overages in the recreational sector as a whole.
Following approval of sector separation, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging this critical management action. Last week, we filed an amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) brief in the ongoing case. In doing so, Ocean Conservancy weighed in on the side of conservation and angler opportunity. We are asking the court to uphold separate quotas for charter fishermen and private anglers because it is the best way to keep red snapper stocks on the road to recovery.
As Ellen Bolen, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Fish Conservation Program, stated last week:
“Sector separation is a smart conservation decision. It is good for the fishermen and good for the fish. Sector separation will greatly improve the management system, will guard against a return to overfishing, and will enhance rebuilding progress. Ocean Conservancy stands behind the government’s decision.”
We are urging the court to uphold sector separation in the recreational red snapper fishery. A reversal could threaten the rebuilding plan and cripple further improvements to the fishery that could bring better access for anglers while protecting the marine ecosystem.