On January 25-28, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet virtually, and once again, red snapper will be among the most contentious topics of discussion.
Prior to Amendment 50 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico, the federal water red snapper season was set by federal managers who attempted to determine how long it would take for the recreational sector to harvest their red snapper quota using the federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). In 2017, prior to an intervention by the Secretary of Commerce, the season was projected to be three days. Fortunately, during and after a two-year pilot program, seasons were no longer set based on a best guess using the questionable MRIP program, but rather each state could monitor their landings in real time and close the season when the quota was reached. 2020 was the first year this system of state management of the recreational quota was made permanent through Amendment 50. With longer seasons and more trust in state managers, things were going well, but that could change next week.
The debate centers on what is considered the “best available science.” The current red snapper quotas were determined through stock assessments and projections that used MRIP data. The state data collection programs are more accurate, but they must be calibrated back to MRIP to have an apples-to-apples comparison to meet the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. Doing so will result in at least a couple of states having “overfished” their quota and they will need to pay it back in 2021, possibly by not having a season at all.
But wait, there’s more. A recently completed study known as the Great Red Snapper Count found that there are at least three times more red snapper in the Gulf than previously estimated. Essentially, the assessment model used to set the quotas is not very reliable at estimating population abundance, yet the states may be forced to modify their more accurate landings data to the less accurate federal system. Anglers beware.
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