The Gulf Red Snapper Calamity Returns

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.
  • A May 12, 2020 letter from the Ocean Conservancy threatened legal action if the data from the state data collection programs were not calibrated back to the old Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) numbers used to set the quota.
  • In October 2020, preliminary estimates from a red snapper total abundance study known as the Great Red Snapper Count (GRSC) estimates there are at least three times the number of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico than currently estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) assessment models.
  • On April 2, the Gulf Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) voted to use some of the GRSC information in setting the overfishing limit but largely disregarded the GRSC in only allowing a 1.9% increase in the maximum pounds of red snapper the Gulf Council could authorize as an annual catch limit.

Why it Matters: Red snapper is one of the most important recreational and commercial species in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly in the states of Mississippi and Alabama. Thanks to the threat of a potential lawsuit from an environmental group, saltwater anglers in these states are faced with the prospect of a significantly shorter season, or no season at all, in 2021 despite evidence that the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico is not in danger of being overfished.

It was too good to be true. While we thought we had finally turned a corner for recreational anglers to have consistent, stable seasons on the healthiest population of red snapper in our lifetimes, NOAA Fisheries has other plans. 

The MRIP is the federal data collection tool for recreational harvest of all federally managed species. Unfortunately, it has never worked well in the Gulf of Mexico, and it was never intended to be used for in-season management when landings need to be monitored in real time. MRIP estimates were most inaccurate with the two Gulf states with the shortest coastlines – Mississippi and Alabama – but there were plenty of discrepancies in Louisiana and Florida that resulted in all the Gulf States developing their own data collection programs to get real-time estimates of what was being landed.

Here’s the problem: current red snapper quotas were set on previous estimates of red snapper catch using the old MRIP numbers. Even though we know these numbers are inaccurate, NOAA is trying to force a calibration of the new state data systems with the numbers that set the original quota to have an “apples to apples” comparison. From a statistical standpoint, that makes some sense. However, it is nonsensical to force a calibration of better numbers back to inaccurate numbers, especially in light of the GRSC which indicates the chances of “overfishing” the red snapper stock by maintaining the status quo are extremely low, if not non-existent. 

Anglers hoped that the jump from an estimated 36 million red snapper (NOAA’s estimate) to 110 million red snapper (GRSC estimate) in the Gulf of Mexico would result in a significant bump in quotas across the board and mitigate the calibration by keeping Mississippi and Alabama’s seasons whole. Unfortunately, the Gulf Council’s Science and Statistical Committee was not willing to go that far, and only bumped the maximum possible quota up by 300,000 pounds, or roughly 37,500 fish, on April 2.

Needless to say, everyone is again frustrated with this situation, including Members of Congress who recently submitted a letter to the Secretary of Commerce urging no action on the calibration. Their justification is very similar to CSF’s comments at the January Gulf Council meeting, and CSF will again urge no action on state calibrations at the upcoming Gulf Council meeting next week.

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Recently, two Montana state representatives have proposed more aggressive legislation addressing the state's gray wolf population. These bills range from the addition of a wolf tag into big game combination tags, to year-round sanctioned harvest without a license, use of snare traps, and private reimbursement of wolf harvest. Currently, the wolf population in Montana sits at 850 wolves, which is 700 over the state’s minimum recovery goal of 150 wolves. Which of the below options for wolf management do you support? (Select all that apply)

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