The Recreational Fishing Alliance is urging the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to address the reportedly rampant illegal sale of red snapper. Eyewitness accounts, discussions at law enforcement advisory panel meetings, and direct conversations with federal and state wildlife agents have substantiated the existence of a substantial illegal red snapper fishery. "There is simply too much anecdotal evidence to ignore the existence of a wide-spread black market fishery that is having a negative impact on red snapper stock and quota shares for the recreational fishing community," said Jim Smarr, Chairman of RFA-TX.
To address the illegal fishery, RFA is seeking the establishment of a law enforcement task force. This task force should contain elements of coastal community sheriffs, Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, NOAA enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service and interested citizens. The intent of the task force is to share information on illegal fishing activities and to coordinate enforcement activities. RFA is also seeking a line-item appropriation in the federal budget to increase NOAA enforcement activities throughout the Gulf of Mexico region.
RFA also contended that stock assessments for red snapper are faulty, because the assessments are missing red snapper mortality associated with the reported illegal and unreported fishery. The problematic nature of this fishery is that red snapper sales bypass dealer and landing reporting requirements, which then further skew fishery dependent data used in the stock assessment by falsely reducing catch per unit of effort estimates. This very likely causes underestimates of the true size of the red snapper stock. "If the reported illegal fishery had been addressed by now, we might very well have seen an even greater increase in the stock size than the current moderate increases we are currently seeing," said Smarr.
RFA believes that by addressing the illegal fishery, in combination with greatly reduced shrimping effort over the past ten years, red snapper regulations for recreational anglers should be relaxed. "Our goal is to have a year-round recreational fishery, possibly allowing for a 'first five fish you catch-you keep' rule instead of the current size and bag limits. This would be a true conservation move," said Smarr.