The long history of upside-down federal management of Gulf red snapper continued this week with NOAA Fisheries announcing more good news about the health of the fishery contrasted against the shortest recreational season on record: just 48 days. Coastal Conservation Association has warned that such absurd measures are inevitable until the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council conducts a reallocation of the fishery based on modern criteria.
"It should be clear to everyone involved in this fishery that reallocation of Gulf red snapper should be a top priority," said Chester Brewer, CCA National Government Relations Committee chairman. "NOAA Fisheries seems much more intent on forcing unwanted Individual Fishing Quotas and days-at-sea programs into this fishery instead of doing the one thing that matters most - reallocating it to reflect massive demographic and economic changes that have occurred in the decades since it was divided 51 percent commercial and 49 percent recreational."
The shrinking season is tied to directly to the recovering stock. As red snapper become more plentiful, anglers are encountering them more often and the fish they are catching are heavier. Since anglers are catching bigger fish more often, the recreational sector hits its quota more quickly, resulting in a 48-day season in 2011. Even though NOAA Fisheries announced that the recreational quota is increasing from 3.403 million pounds in 2010 to 3.525 million pounds in 2011, the season is projected to be even shorter than last year.
Evidence from offshore anglers indicates a booming red snapper population in the Gulf that has benefitted wildly from a variety of factors, including a 74 percent reduction in shrimp trawl bycatch that was mandated in 2007. The recovering status is good news for a fishery that has long suffered from baffling stock assessments and suspect catch data. A wild card this year is whether NOAA Fisheries will elect to heed calls from the Gulf State governors and the recreational angling community to add more than a million pounds of recreational quota that went uncaught last year due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the 2011 season.
"That would be a welcome stop-gap measure for anglers and the businesses that depend on them along the Gulf Coast, but it does not get to the root of the problem," said Brewer. "There is something systemically wrong with the federal fisheries management system, and nowhere is it more obvious than in Gulf red snapper, where the most economically beneficial sector of the fishery will sit at the dock for more than 10 months this year. Before the Gulf Council embarks on any more controversial management schemes, it has to get the allocation right."