Why It Matters: Just as they are in the Gulf of Mexico, red snapper are an extremely popular reef fish in the South Atlantic. Unfortunately, the population has been subject to overfishing and is currently under a rebuilding plan. Ironically, as the population has rapidly rebuilt, anglers get only a couple of days each year to participate in the fishery because they are encountering red snapper more frequently, and poor federal estimates of discard mortality assume many of the red snapper caught out of season will die, thus reaching the quota more quickly even when the season is not open. In addition, the fact that there is currently the highest biomass of younger fish in the population that anyone has ever documented, despite the very small estimate of older fish, brings into question the federal management model that says you must have many older fish to have an abundance of young fish. The numbers are not adding up.
- On May 23, NOAA Fisheries announced that red snapper anglers in the South Atlantic would have an opportunity on July 14 and 15 to harvest red snapper in another angler complexing mini-season.
- Even though the abundance of red snapper is currently higher than anyone ever remembers, the confines of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, poor data for the recreational sector, and questionable model assumptions about the red snapper population continues to be a challenge for reef fish anglers in the South Atlantic.
- As recently as the March 2023 South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting, CSF has been advocating for the development of state data collection programs, like those in the Gulf of Mexico, and a re-examination of the population reference points in the stock assessment model.
Last Tuesday, NOAA Fisheries announced the South Atlantic recreational red snapper season would be open for two days, July 14-15, with a one-fish bag limit per angler. Despite a rapidly rebuilding population of red snapper in the region, the total recreational quota from Florida to North Carolina will be just 29,656 fish, the same harvest quota as in recent years. However, the number of red snapper released, rather than the actual harvest, is what drives the short seasons.
The short season is due, in part, to NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program’s (MRIP) estimates of recreational discards, or fish that are thrown back and assumed to die when the season is closed the rest of the year. Many of the released fish survive, but a substantial portion do not and are counted towards the total removals from the population each year. As the population grows, more red snapper are estimated by MRIP to be encountered by anglers, which results in high discard mortality estimates and less red snapper remaining in the quota that are available for harvest during an open season.
Additionally, even though the recent red snapper stock assessment suggests the stock has been undergoing overfishing for years, the stock continues to rebuild despite the absence of older fish in the data. In fact, we have the highest abundance of red snapper in the South Atlantic in decades, yet if the stock/recruit model that NOAA is imposing on the fishery is correct, it should be collapsing. The numbers just don’t add up, which points to the fact that our reference points used in the models are not reflecting what’s happening in the water.
At the March meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, CSF continued to advocate for state-based data collection programs that can supplement and correct the short comings of MRIP in estimating both red snapper harvest and discard mortality. In addition, CSF urged an independent review of the stock assessment reference points to see if they are suitable for management based on the reality of what anglers are seeing on the water.