Why It Matters: Similar for anglers in the Gulf of Mexico, red snapper are an extremely popular reef fish in the South Atlantic. However, federal stock assessment models suggest they are being overfished in the region, yet the population abundance is higher than it has ever been and continues to increase. Needless to say, the uncertainty in what is happening with the red snapper stock in the South Atlantic and whether anglers are actually overfishing has led to much contention between anglers, Members of Congress and federal managers.
- R. 4587, the Red Snapper Act, would prevent NOAA Fisheries from implementing punitive measures on recreational anglers until the results of an unprecedented South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count is complete and can inform management in the future.
- NOAA Fisheries has grant funding available for “innovative strategies” to address dead discards in the red snapper fishery, which could result in projects that demonstrate angler effort, and the resulting federal estimates of red snapper discards, is not so high after all.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) supported Red Snapper Act (H.R. 4587) recently advanced out of the House Natural Resources Committee. This bill, led by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative John Rutherford (FL), would prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from implementing time/area closures for bottom fishing in the South Atlantic until the Great Red Snapper Count, an unprecedented new fishery-independent red snapper assessment for the region, is complete and the findings are integrated into the fishery management stock assessment. Despite the highest abundance of red snapper in decades, NOAA Fisheries recently considered seasonal area closures to all bottom fishing in the South Atlantic, including fishing for species other than snapper, to reduce the number of federally estimated red snapper dead discards outside of the two-day recreational red snapper harvest season.
However, NOAA Fisheries recently revealed that the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), which they use to estimate harvest as well as dead discards, has been producing estimates that are inflated by 30-40%. With red snapper harvest and dead discard numbers being lower than previously estimated, the need to consider drastic, punitive measures such as area and seasonal closures are unwarranted. The abundance of red snapper in the South Atlantic is at historic highs despite fishery-dependent stock assessment models suggesting that the fishery is being overfished. As the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has pointed out previously, the numbers simply don’t add up. The results of the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count should shed much needed light on the discrepancy between assumption-riddled models and the actual population status in the water.
In the meantime, to get a better handle on what anglers are actually harvesting and releasing in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery, NOAA Fisheries is soliciting proposals for innovative strategies to better understand and address red snapper discards. Projects funded under this program are intended to inform future management strategies for reducing dead discards but will also likely result in better estimates of angler catch and effort overall than the current MRIP program.
Both the results of the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count and more realistic estimates of the number of anglers targeting reef fish are desperately needed if we ever expect to get to an appropriate management strategy for this important fishery.