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Statement: Gulf Council Leaves Illegal Red Snapper Management in Place

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The following statement was released by Meredith Moore, director of the Fish Conservation Program, on the decision by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to continue the illegal management of red snapper for another two years:

“Today, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to leave a blatantly illegal management system in place for an additional two years, abdicating their responsibility to rebuild red snapper, prevent overfishing, and manage it fairly for all users.

“Rather than correct a data error that allows catch overages from the private recreational sector, the Gulf Council intends to continue using a management system that violates legal requirements for science-based, accountable management.

“The Council’s action puts commercial and for-hire fishermen, who have responsibly fished their quotas, at risk of lower catch levels in the future. It also jeopardizes the rebuilding of this stock.

“Now that the Council has failed to faithfully uphold its sworn legal responsibility, NOAA Fisheries must take immediate action to ensure fishing in 2021 is legal, sustainable, and fair. To fail to do so puts the fishery, and the Gulf coast communities that rely on it, at risk.”

 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR:

  • Additional resources:
  • ABOUT TODAY:
    • Inconsistent catch monitoring systems across the five states are allowing the private recreational fishing sector that fishes for Gulf of Mexico red snapper to exceed sustainable catch limits, causing overfishing and risking decades of rebuilding progress. The lack of calibration puts the recovery of red snapper at risk and threatens the future fishing opportunities of not just private anglers, but also for-hire captains and commercial fishermen.
    • At a council meeting on April 15, 2021, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to delay addressing this issue until 2023. 
    • This leaves state management in violation of the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as noted in the Council’s own Framework Action document. That document explains that allowing the states to continue to monitor and estimate landings using their own data collection program would be “inconsistent with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act,” and was “not a viable alternative.” Framework Action at 16. Due to the lack of data calibration, the private recreational sector’s landings exceeded the private angling component ACL in 2018 and 2019.
    • Recent surveys show the recovery of red snapper has slowed or halted in the years since the most recent assessment of the stock’s health
  • The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is the primary law that governs how fish are managed in federal waters (typically between 3 and 200 nautical miles offshore). The MSA requires that managers restrict catch below science-based limits that are set at levels to prevent overfishing of the resource each year.
  • The Gulf of Mexico red snapper is a commercially and recreationally important fish stock to the region. The stock was put into a rebuilding plan after overfishing drove it to just 3% of its historic levels. Red snapper is more than halfway through its 27-year rebuilding plan, and it is critical for Gulf fishermen and communities that we meet the deadline of having a healthy stock by 2032.
  • The recreational catch for red snapper has rebounded from only 2.5 million pounds in 2009 to 7.4 million pounds in 2020 due to rebuilding.
  • In 2020, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and NMFS promulgated a new rule (Amendment 50) to delegate some aspects of recreational red snapper management. This new management system provides greater authority to Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, allowing those states to manage recreational fishing of red snapper in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico adjacent to their state waters. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council sets the annual catch limits (ACL, often referred to as quotas) for each state, but the states can determine how to stay within the limit using management measures.
  • Because each state’s survey is tailored to the needs of each state and its anglers, the surveys and the estimates they produce are not directly comparable. Using what scientists know about the differences among survey collection methods, calibrations have been created to make the landings estimates among the surveys comparable to a standard unit of reporting, or a common currency. These calibrations have been approved for use in management by the scientific advisors to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the Science and Statistical Committee.
  • NMFS acknowledged in the response to public comments for the final rule for Amendment 50 that without calibration, the rule is not compliant with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.[1] If the Council and NMFS fail to address the data problem, the agency would be violating its statutory duty to ensure that management does not allow overfishing and to use the best scientific information available.
  • Commercial fishermen are allocated 51 percent of the red snapper catch, and have successfully stayed within their quota for over a decade. Recreational fishermen are allocated 49 percent of the catch, and exceeded their catch 7 out of 10 years between 2006 and 2016.
  • Years of sacrifices and tough choices by fishermen and managers have begun rebuilding this valuable fishery. A healthy red snapper fishery not only benefits the Gulf’s fishermen and coastal economies, but also restaurants, hotels and fish markets and American consumers nationwide. This is an important natural resource for many economic sectors.

[1] Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Amendments 50A-F, Final Rule, 85 Fed. Reg. 6819, 6822 (Feb 6, 2020) (Response to Comment 5).

 

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