September 5, 2013

Gulf Council Still On the Hook For Better Snapper Management

Chris Horton, Midwestern States Director for CSF, offered public comments on behalf of recreational anglers at last week’s Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Much of the focus of the meeting was centered on the current crisis regarding the management of the recreational sector of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery. Ironically, as the red snapper population continues to rebuild and the fish get larger and more abundant, recreational anglers have fewer and fewer days to access the fishery, which has resulted in significant negative economic impacts to Gulf Coast communities, the charter boat industry and fishing tackle retailers.

The poor management stems from both how red snapper are counted and allocated between the commercial and recreational sectors. NOAA Fisheries has historically managed marine fisheries based on poundage, so as the red snapper population continues to grow, the more numerous recreational anglers are reaching their poundage quota more quickly and thus triggering shorter and shorter seasons. Conversely, the available harvest for the commercial sector is privately owned by relatively few commercial fisherman that have the ability to fish all year to fill their quota, which is easily counted at the docks. The recreational harvest can only be estimated, and in-season adjustments to keep from exceeding their quota is not feasible. The commercial model for fisheries management does not work for recreational anglers when it comes to red snapper in the Gulf. In addition, the commercial industry currently gets slightly more than half of the total pounds of red snapper available for harvest each year. This allocation percentage was established 23 years ago (1990) and is long overdue for a re-examination of the best value of the red snapper fishery to the nation as a whole.

Unfortunately, the Council failed to provide any new alternatives to how red snapper are being managed and so both how red snapper are counted and allocated between the commercial and recreational sectors basically remain the same and therefore no immediate relief for the recreational angling community will be forthcoming. In addition to modifications to how red snapper are counted and allocated, many recreational anglers believe that the states and not the federal government are much better suited for managing the recreational component using a model similar to the successful approach by inland fisheries managers.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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