During its recent meeting in Houston, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved moving ahead with an amendment to update the allocation of Gulf red snapper between the commercial and recreational sectors, a welcome development hailed by the Coastal Conservation Association as long overdue. The Council approved the action by a vote of 9-6, with the representatives of all five of the Gulf state fishery management agencies voting for the measure to proceed.
“The current allocation of 51 percent commercial, 49 percent recreational was set using data from when Ronald Reagan was president. There is a strong case for reallocation based simply on the tremendous changes that have taken place along the Gulf Coast since then,” said Richen Brame, CCA’s Regional Fisheries Director. “Nonetheless, allocation decisions are always contentious and we applaud the Council for continuing its efforts to set the allocation based on modern criteria.”
The Gulf Council voted to send Amendment 28 – Red Snapper Reallocation out to a series of public hearings in the Gulf states and set a special meeting for May in New Orleans to take final action. Amendment 28 contains seven alternatives for reallocating red snapper that range from status quo to shifting up to 10 percent to the recreational sector. The Council selected Alternative 5, which directs 75 percent of any quota over 9.12 million pounds to the recreational sector and 25 percent to the commercial sector, as its preferred alternative. With the current Gulf-wide quota set at 11 million pounds, Alternative 5 would shift roughly 1.4 million pounds to the recreational sector in time for the 2014 season if approved.
“When the original allocation was set red snapper stocks were in far worse condition, and there are questions about the quality of harvest data even today, which makes the accuracy of an allocation set in the mid-1980s extremely suspect. It is quite possible that the allocation of this fishery has never been correct and that may explain some of the issues anglers are grappling with today,” said Brame. “We know that this is not a cure for all the problems in recreational management, but if Alternative 5 is approved it will do a lot to fix the foundation of this fishery and give us something solid on which to build. We would strongly encourage that the allocation be reviewed regularly from now on.”
Efforts to keep Amendment 28 on track were aided greatly by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who highlighted the issue during the nomination process for Dr. Kathryn Sullivan to be the Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, and Administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“This is huge news for Gulf Coast recreational anglers. After months of urging NOAA and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to take action on Amendment 28, they have finally started moving on it,” said Sen. Vitter. “We intend to follow it through to completion. Proactively managing Gulf fisheries based on the best science and economics should always be the ultimate goal, and this is a positive step in the meantime that could lead to an economic boost for Gulf economies, something we can all support.”