Gulf Council Hands Red Snapper Debacle Back to NOAA Fisheries

Highlights

  • Since 2018, each of the five states in the Gulf of Mexico have been successfully managing their recreational harvest of red snapper within their individual allocated quotas.
  • Since all five state data collection programs are different, NOAA Fisheries insists they must implement a calibration of the state data back to federal data in order to ensure harvest is in compliance with the Magnuson-Steven’s Act.
  • Averting a severe cut in the 2021 red snapper seasons in Alabama and Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted at the April meeting to delay implementing the calibration of the Gulf states data collection programs until 2023.
  • In July, the National Marine Fisheries Service sent a letter back to the Council indicating the April 2021 action regarding calibrations was not based on the best available science, forcing them to reconsider the action at last week’s meeting.

Why it Matters: Red snapper are one of the most important recreational species in the Gulf of Mexico, and particularly in the states of Mississippi and Alabama. Prior to the April 2021 meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, these two states were facing potential drastic cuts in their private recreational red snapper season because of discrepancies in angler catch reporting between the old federal data programs and the new, more reliable state data collection programs. Fortunately, the Council voted to delay the calibration between the two very different systems until 2023, which provided an opportunity for all the Gulf states to maintain their planned seasons for 2021. In July, the National Marine Fisheries Service determined that delaying the calibration was not based on the best available science. Calibration of state data was again before the Gulf Council during last week’s meeting, and again, the Council overwhelming voted down any attempts to calibrate state data before January 1, 2023.

The never-ending saga of recreational red snapper management was once again before the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) last week. In July, the Gulf Council received a letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) indicating their decision at the April Gulf Council meeting to delay implementation of a calibration requirement for the state data collection programs until 2023 may not be in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The red snapper catch estimates using the federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) were used to set the recreational season quotas we are fishing under today. Even though the states are now using more timely and accurate recreational harvest data collection programs, NMFS insists the new state data must be calibrated back to the MRIP data used to set the quota in order to remain in compliance with the Magnuson-Steven’s Act. While there is little disagreement that a calibration to ensure consistent currencies between states is necessary, there is considerable disagreement in how the calibration ratios presented by NMFS were developed. In Mississippi for example, applying the MRIP estimates for the red snapper landed by Mississippi anglers in recent years would have required more offshore boats fishing on some days of the season than are registered in the state.

The Gulf Council ultimately rejected motions to change the calibration date any sooner than the final framework action of January 1, 2023 that was originally passed in April, as well as a motion to cut all state quotas by 23% in 2022. The justification for delaying the calibration is to provide time for NMFS to work with the states to determine the reason for the data discrepancies and provide an opportunity to develop a more suitable calibration methodology based on the recommendations of a recent National Academy of Sciences report - Data and Management Strategies for Recreational Fisheries with Annual Catch Limits (2021). Congress was thinking along these same lines when they published report language for the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which directed NMFS to contract with a non-governmental entity to assess the accuracy and precision of the federal vs. state catch data programs, recommend improvements to both, and determine the best way to calibrate between the two programs.

CSF submitted comments offering similar justification to support the calibration delay until 2023 during the public testimony portion of last week’s meeting.

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