Why It Matters: Like in the Gulf of Mexico, red snapper are an extremely popular reef fish in the South Atlantic. Unfortunately, a rapidly rebuilding population and poor estimates of the number of red snapper caught and released when fishing for other bottom fish outside of the red snapper mini-seasons are resulting in an “overfishing” status, which requires even further cuts to the annual catch limits and the ability of anglers to access the fishery. Part of the answer is getting better estimates of angler effort and catch than what the current Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) is able to provide. However, at the recent South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, CSF expressed concerns on whether a proposed federal permit is really the best answer, instead, encouraging the development of state-based angler harvest data collection programs, similar to the highly successful programs in the Gulf.
- Despite the highest abundance of red snapper in the South Atlantic in recent history, the red snapper fishery is still considered “overfished” and undergoing “overfishing” according to the latest stock assessment models.
- At last week’s South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting, CSF’s Chris Horton questioned the reference points used to make the stock status determination, as well as the estimates of the number of dead discards from the recreational sector that is driving the overfishing status.
- Horton also encourage the National Marine Fisheries Service to work with the states on a proven alternative to the proposed federal permit that would lead to better management of the recreational sector.
At last week’s South Atlantic Fishery Management Council Meeting, the Snapper Grouper Committee conversation was again dominated by the challenges of managing a rapidly rebuilding population of red snapper. Much of the problem lies with the estimates of dead discards, or fish that are thrown back outside of the red snapper season, when anglers are fishing for other reef fish with open seasons. Those dead discards, estimated by the Marine Recreation Information Program (MRIP), count against the fish available for harvest. As the population gets bigger, so do the estimated discards, leaving fewer available for harvest – a nonsensical cycle for anglers.
In his testimony before the Council, CSF’s Senior Director of Fisheries Policy Chris Horton questioned the assessment models and the reference points used to determine the overfishing status.
“We absolutely support the principles of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to end overfishing and rebuild stocks to healthy levels,” said Horton. “However, the South Atlantic red snapper situation is yet again the shining example of how a well-intended piece of legislation written by folks in Washington, DC doesn’t always work well on the ground.” Horton went on to point out that, “Even though we’ve supposedly been overfishing for years, we have the highest abundance of red snapper out there that anyone has ever seen. If the stock/recruit model that we are imposing on this fishery is correct, it should be collapsing. The numbers just don’t add up, which points to the fact that our reference points aren’t reflecting what’s happening in the water or our discard estimates are way off.”
In order to improve estimates of angler effort and discards in the red snapper fishery, the Council is exploring a federal permit for recreational anglers. However, there was much debate about what that permit would look like, what it would accomplish, or how it would be implemented. “A better alternative to a federal permit would be the development of state-based program to supplement MRIP that could identify the universe of anglers targeting snapper and grouper while also significantly improving the timeliness of the data,” said Horton. “I challenge and encourage the National Marine Fisheries Service to lean into the opportunity to work cooperatively with the states and develop state-based programs to provide more reliable data and better management.”