A unique opportunity for Gulf red snapper

New stock assessment a chance for Gulf Council to fix mistakes of the past

Posted on June 12, 2013

HOUSTON (6-12-2013) - In a letter to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Coastal Conservation Association cites the new red snapper stock assessment as an opportunity for federal managers to fix the mistakes of the recent past by allocating the entire available increase in red snapper annual catch limits to the recreational sector.

“Though this action will not account for the harm that federal mismanagement of the red snapper resource has imposed on anglers across the Gulf, it will begin to repair the damage and begins to recognize the needs and potential of the recreational sector,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee.

While the shortest recreational red snapper seasons on record have cost jobs and revenue for Gulf Coast economies, the commercial sector has thrived under its catch share program in which a handful of businesses own the right to harvest 51 percent of the annual quota of red snapper in the Gulf. The greatly expanded catch limits that have been proposed present a unique opportunity for the Gulf Council to also address the outdated allocation of red snapper, which was last set in the mid-1980s. A report by Gentner Consulting Group that looked at the increase in potential economic value and total sales from allocating 75 and 100 percent of the increases available makes an overwhelming case for the recreational sector.

“The Council has shown little willingness to address reallocation of this or any fishery for a variety of reasons, but primarily because reallocating usually means one side wins and the other loses. Allocating increases in annual catch limits (ACL) avoids that scenario,” said Brewer. “In this case, the commercial sector, which is operating under a catch share system that has dramatically decreased the number of participants in the fishery, is not impacted while the recreational sector, which has increased significantly in size and economic significance since the fishery was allocated in the mid-1980s, is given the resources to fulfill its role as an economic engine for the Gulf states in 2013 and beyond.”

The Gulf Council’s Science and Statistical Committee has endorsed an annual catch limit (ACL) of 13.5 million pounds of red snapper for 2013, an 11.9 million pound ACL for 2014 and a 10.6 million pound ACL for 2015. However, CCA is advocating that the Council average the ACL at 12 million pounds for the next three years to avoid the “yo-yo” regulations that have characterized the fishery in the recent past.

“The track record speaks for itself – we don’t believe the federal government has the ability to manage this fishery with any degree of accuracy or reliability. Averaging the increase to 12 million pounds over the next three years presents the best opportunity for stability in this fishery for the first time in a very long time,” said Brewer. “Ironically, the recreational sector has been criticized repeatedly and vigorously for not being ‘accountable.’ The lack of accountability seems to lie with the federal management regime that has forced the most severely limited fishing seasons ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico that we now see were largely not based on good science.”

The new assessment shows the significant increases are the result of fishing mortality rates that have averaged about 56 percent of what would have been a sustainable rate consistent with the rebuilding plan over the past six years.

“The federal management methods of the past – infrequent and inadequate monitoring of stock health and efforts to count every fish caught recreationally to produce an undependable harvest estimate in pounds – have been shown to be unworkable and grossly inaccurate,” said Brewer. “There is no indication that federal management is willing or able to do anything different, which is one of the reasons CCA supports moving management responsibility of red snapper to the individual states as a way to ultimately correct a management process gone awry. Combined with the efficiency and efficacy of state management, this increased allowance for the recreational sector should begin to repair the damage created by past mismanagement of this resource.”