March 9, 2020

Insufficient Data Continues to Plague Red Snapper Anglers in the South Atlantic

Last week, during the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting in Jekyll Island, Georgia, NOAA Fisheries indicated that the 2020 recreational red snapper season in the South Atlantic could be 3 days. However, the season is contingent on Amendment 33 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, which allows NOAA Fisheries to set a season that is 3-days or shorter, being approved and implemented by NOAA prior to the start of the season in July.

Preliminary estimates indicate that recreational anglers harvested more than 49,000 red snapper in the 5-day 2019 season, exceeding the approved annual catch limit (ACL) of 29,656 fish. Based on the daily rate of catch during last year’s season, which was 9,935 fish per day of the open season (a 55% increase in fish landed per day from 2018), NOAA estimates it will take just 3 days to reach the quota in 2020.

While there are strong indications that the red snapper stock is rebuilding in the South Atlantic, dead discards of red snapper caught while fishing for other species outside of the red snapper seasons are estimated to be very high. This high mortality of red snapper throughout the year results in the relatively low red snapper ACL of less than 30,000 fish each season. However, there are questions as to how the estimates of discard mortality are calculated and their accuracy.

 “We continue to be caught in this federal marine fisheries management conundrum of recreational harvest and dead discard data being estimated from a federal survey that was never designed to accurately capture landings during short seasons, especially a season that was only five days last year,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s Fisheries Policy Director Chris Horton. “While the red snapper situation is different in the Atlantic than in the Gulf, the solution to better estimates of angler harvest and discards, and opportunities for longer seasons, are the same – state-based harvest data collection programs and management of the recreational quota.”

Catch rates of red snapper in the South Atlantic have been steadily increasing over the last several years, suggesting that the population is rapidly rebuilding. However, the next stock assessment for red snapper in the South Atlantic is not scheduled to begin until 2021. Any increases in stock abundance likely will not translate to a higher recreational ACL’s until 2022 or 2023 as a result.

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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