Red Snapper: A Federal Fisheries Management Failure

Gulf red snapper fishery faces strict regulation at the hand of National Marine Fisheries Service

Posted on January 31, 2007

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has announced drastic regulation changes for Gulf red snapper that will have profound impacts on recreational anglers, charterboat operators, commercial fishermen and the shrimp industry. After years of mismanagement, federal fisheries managers paint a grim picture for the future of this fishery.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service avoided the hard, necessary decisions in this fishery from the beginning and only now has realized that there is nowhere left to run,” said Fred Miller, chairman of the Government Relations Committee of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). “The result is that all of us will have to pay now for more than two decades of their failed management.”
 
Red snapper have been deemed overfished since 1979. It was realized early on that shrimp trawl bycatch is the major source of red snapper mortality, but bycatch reduction devices were not required for the shrimp fleet until 1998. Once required, the BRDs were expected to achieve a 40 percent reduction in red snapper bycatch, but federal managers neglected to monitor the effectiveness of the BRDs or the level of compliance by the shrimp fleet. Not until 2004 was research conducted that revealed the BRDs were reducing bycatch by only 12 percent, creating the need for drastic reductions in harvest.
 
“If NMFS had been doing its job, we would have never reached this point. This situation was created entirely by NMFS and its refusal to address shrimp trawl bycatch in an effective and timely manner,” said Pat Murray, CCA vice president and director of conservation. “Federal managers sold everyone on a promise that a 9 million pound total allowable catch was sustainable when in reality they had no idea what was happening with this fishery.”
 
Current management measures could have been altered two years ago when CCA petitioned the Secretary of Commerce to put emergency measures into effect to end the overfishing of red snapper by the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fleet. That petition was denied. Shortly thereafter, NMFS published Amendment 22 to Red Snapper Rebuilding Plan without any bycatch reduction standards or regulations for the shrimp industry to prevent overfishing of red snapper. CCA filed suit in U. S. District Court to force NMFS to reduce bycatch by 60-80 percent through measures such as bycatch quotas, areas closed to shrimping, seasonal shrimping closures and meaningful reduction in shrimping effort.
 
“It should frustrate everyone associated with this fishery that it takes legal action to force NMFS to do its job,” said Miller. “If NMFS had done anything to rein in shrimp trawl bycatch since 1979 we would not be in this difficult situation today. Instead, they have managed this fishery into a literal dead end.”
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CCA is the largest marine resource conservation group of its kind in the nation. With more than 90,000 members in 15 state chapters, CCA has been active in state, national and international fisheries management issues since 1977. Visit www.JoinCCA.org for more information.  
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH