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A Voice for Our Ocean

Statement: State Management of Red Snapper

Washington, D.C. – The following statement was issued by Meredith Moore, director of the Fish Conservation Program at Ocean Conservancy, in response to the lack of immediate action to ensure sustainable management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Today, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council further delayed action necessary to ensure that the private recreational sector of the red snapper fishery stays within its sustainable, science-based annual catch limit. As a result, recreational fishing in the 2020 season will almost certainly exceed sustainable limits. This puts the entire fishery, including the commercial and for-hire sectors, at higher risk for future reductions in catch levels.

“Ocean Conservancy supports state management of red snapper, but implementation of this new system has been plagued by accountability issues. Inconsistent catch monitoring systems across the five states prevents a clear picture as to whether science-based catch limits are being met. The National Marine Fisheries Service stated in the official rulemaking document implementing state management in February that the data for recreational red snapper catch would need to be calibrated in order to prevent overfishing and comply with federal law. Currently, each Gulf state is surveying angler catch using different methodologies, making it difficult to know just how much fishing for red snapper is actually occurring across the Gulf. This approach is statistically indefensible. Essentially, rather than comparing apples to apples, we have a data fruit salad.

“We appreciate that the Council did lay out a process to try to address these management issues for the 2021 season. We support these efforts and look forward to working with the Council to find an end to repeated excess fishing by the private recreational sector.

“Over the course of 2020, the Council will be moving forward with efforts to find ways to calibrate state catch data in order to establish a “common currency” that allows for more accurate and accountable reporting against the private recreational sector’s annual catch limit. We encourage the Council to finalize this work with all haste, as management of red snapper without a common currency or other management measures to prevent overages violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

However, it is deeply disappointing that the Council will do nothing to address overfishing in 2020. While some Council members attempted to encourage states to proactively adjust their management this year to avoid overfishing, the motion was narrowly voted down. The Council is tasked with preventing overfishing every year, not just when it is convenient. 

The stakes are high. The private recreational sector has simply caught too many fish over the last several years, and failure to rein in this fishing is putting the health of the fish population at risk. Commercial and for-hire fishermen, who have been fishing sustainably for years, may pay the price in reduced quotas and access because of the lack of accountability for private anglers. The Council is putting decades of hard work and sacrifice by fishermen to rebuild red snapper in jeopardy.”  

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Meredith Moore is available for interviews upon request.

NOTES TO THE EDITOR:

For more background, see this blog.

  • 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 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.
  • Last Spring, 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 move 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. States now have the responsibility to design sustainable management plans and to collect and report data on catch of red snapper by private anglers. 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.
  • Managers are using the ability to customize regional management under our federal law to create a system where states will manage the fine details of fishing for red snapper off their shores while remaining under the umbrella of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its requirements for conservation.
  • This state management system was tested throughout 2018 and 2019 using state-specific Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) issued by NOAA Fisheries. These EFPs revealed a significant problem in combining the data taken by the individual Gulf States to ensure that private recreational fishing is not exceeding its Gulfwide ACL.
  • Each state reports its catch using its own system of data collection and estimation, and dissimilar values of catch are being compared directly without converting to a common currency. The data produced by the various state data collection programs are not comparable across states or with the federal data. This problem affects the ability to complete a reliable Gulfwide stock assessment, accurately monitor catch against the ACL, and prevent the recreational component of the fishery from exceeding its quota and the entire fishery from exceeding the ACL.
  • If these data issues are not corrected, it is possible that overfishing could go unnoticed and unaddressed for many years. This could result in a slowing or reversal of rebuilding that would not be detected until a stock assessment independently provides a look into the stock’s health. Managers would then need to make tough decisions for how to get red snapper back on track to rebuild. This situation could mean that the for-hire and commercial sectors of the fishery will bear the burden of reducing catch levels to mitigate overfishing by the private recreational sector.
  • 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.
  • In 2017, the Secretary of Commerce illegally extended the season for recreational anglers (from 3 days to 42 total days), resulting in the recreational sector significantly exceeding its annual catch limit.
  • 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.

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