CSF Expresses Concerns with South Atlantic Council Direction

  • The red snapper season in the South Atlantic has been exceedingly short over the last several years, in part due to the inability of the federal Marine Recreational Information Program to effectively estimate not only how many fish are landed, but also how many are released.
  • Despite the highest number of Atlantic red snapper being caught in a lifetime, the high estimates of red snapper that die after release has been the catalyst for considering drastic management measures and the establishment of a federal recreational permit, both of which the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) opposes.

Why It Matters: As the South Atlantic red snapper population continues to grow in abundance, more are estimated to be caught and released outside of the short red snapper mini season. A percentage of the fish released counts towards the overall mortality estimates in the fishery. While there are 54 other species in the Snapper Grouper complex, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering closing all fishing for Snapper Grouper species at certain times of the year in order to reduce red snapper mortality. However, doing so could have dire consequences for angling access and coastal economies, especially along the central and north Florida coast.

Despite the highest abundance of red snapper in the Atlantic in decades, the 2022 South Atlantic red snapper season lasted only two days. Even with the short season, the fishery is still considered overfished and undergoing overfishing on paper. For this reason, fishery managers will be considering drastic measures to reduce fishing effort, as well as get a better handle on who is targeting red snapper in the region at this week’s South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) meeting in Charleston, South Carolina.

As red snapper abundance increases, more are being caught and released outside of the season. A percentage of those released will die, either from the effects of being brought to the surface too quickly, known as barotrauma, or from predation as they swim back down. Very high dead discard estimates produced by the Marine Recreational Information Survey has facilitated the consideration of time/area closures, where fishing for any of the 55 species under the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan would not be allowed in the South Atlantic to reduce fishing mortality. Months of closed recreational access for all bottom fishing will have significant, negative impacts to anglers, the fishing industry, and local communities. However, the fact that the red snapper population continues to rapidly rebuild despite the high estimates of mortality, and in light of an Atlantic red snapper absolute abundance study that is currently underway which will likely show there are more red snapper in the South Atlantic than currently thought, closing access to the entire Snapper Grouper complex for any amount of time is premature.

To try and obtain a better estimate of how many anglers are targeting snapper and grouper in the South Atlantic, which would provide better estimates of how many fish are caught and released compared to the current MRIP survey, the Council is also considering requiring a federal permit for recreational anglers fishing for snapper or grouper. While defining the universe of anglers targeting these fish would help improve stock assessment estimates, it is unlikely a federal permit will lead to timelier angler catch data and better overall management of the fishery.

CSF submitted written testimony to the Council expressing its concerns and encouraging a different direction with both proposed amendments. South Atlantic anglers are encouraged to tune into this week’s Council meeting and offer testimony virtually.

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