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Ocean Conservancy Statement: Red Snapper quick-fix jeopardizes fishery

Washington, D.C. – The following statement was issued by Meredith Moore, director of Fish Conservation at the Ocean Conservancy in anticipation of a Department of Commerce decision to announce lengthening the private recreational red snapper fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico:

“The anticipated decision to lengthen the private recreational red snapper fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico by the Department of Commerce will almost certainly lead to overfishing of red snapper, plain and simple. Private anglers of the Gulf of Mexico deserve a real solution to the problem of shortening seasons for red snapper, not an ill-conceived quick-fix.

“Years of sacrifices and tough choices by fishermen and managers have begun rebuilding this valuable fishery. We’re finally seeing more fish in the water and any short-sighted decision that puts those gains at risk is an affront to their hard work.

“While the exact details of the deal are unclear, our initial analysis suggests that the recreational sector could land roughly double its science-based annual catch limit. Overfishing of red snapper will only increase the difficulties faced by the region in restoring this fish to healthy levels.

“Decision-makers at the Department of Commerce should ask themselves one question: does this deal achieve sustainable, science-based conservation and management of the fishery? If the answer is no, then both the fish and the people who depend on it are at risk. Should this deal authorize overfishing, it will be in direct violation of our fishery management law. The U.S. is known as a global leader in sustainable fishery management. Today’s action could undermine that reputation.

“Ocean Conservancy recognizes that new solutions are needed to better manage recreational fisheries that meet sustainability objectives and angler needs. We urge the Department of Commerce to reconsider its decision and work with the states, regional managers, fishermen and others to develop real solutions to the problem of shortening seasons for red snapper as opposed to a quick fix that threatens the long-term health of the stock, the stability and profitability of coastal businesses, and the future access of private anglers to the fishery.”

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Meredith Moore is available for interviews upon request.

NOTES TO THE EDITOR:

  • 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 annual limits that are set at levels to prevent overfishing of the resource.
  • The Gulf of Mexico red snapper is a commercially and recreationally important stock to the region. Due to decades of overfishing, red snapper was first declared overfished in 1988. The stock is managed under a rebuilding plan and scheduled to be rebuilt to healthy levels by 2032.
  • The initial announcement of the federal season for the private recreational sector of the red snapper fishery occurred on May 5. The season was set to just three days, due primarily to dramatically increasing catch levels in state waters from the five Gulf States. The same large population of red snapper is targeted in both state and federal fisheries, meaning anything removed in state waters has to be accounted for when the federal government sets its season. In 2016, states landed approximately 76% of the fish available, and they were estimated to land 79% of the available fish in 2017. As a result, in order to stay under science-based catch limits, the federal season could only be three days.
  • The deal expected to be announced today is rumored to align the fishing days in both state and federal waters, so that private recreational anglers could fish anywhere between the shore and 200 nautical miles for red snapper on the same days. While this correctly identifies one of the key problems in the fishery — the expansion of state seasons and catch — it likely fails to adhere to the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to fish under sustainable, science-based annual catch limits that prevent overfishing.

Ocean Conservancy is working with you to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit for www.oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.