States have remedy for red snapper mess

Posted on December 04, 2015 by Thad Altman and Frank Artiles, My View, Tallahassee Democrat

Henry Ford once said, “Don’t find fault; find a remedy.”

While it is easy to blame the rapid decline in recreational fishing opportunities for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico on federal mismanagement, Nick Wiley, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the other four Gulf states marine fisheries directors have agreed on a simple, proven remedy for the red snapper management debacle in the Gulf of Mexico – let the states manage it.

The Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act (HR 3094) currently before Congress would allow the states to provide a much-needed solution for a failing system. Although there are some who want to make state-based management a controversial issue, they don’t know the states like we do.

If you’re a Florida coastal angler, ask yourself how many times you couldn’t fish for spotted sea trout because it was “overfished” and had to be closed? Or redfish, tarpon, flounder, sheepshead? How about inland species like large mouth bass or crappie in Lake Tohopekaliga, Okeechobee or Seminole?

The answer is “None.”

With that in mind, those who argue that state-based management of red snapper will be a “race to the bottom” and the stock will once again be depleted are completely off-base. That’s never happened before in any other state-managed fishery, because there is absolutely no incentive for Director Wiley or for any of the other states to do anything but ensure the continued rebuilding of the red snapper fishery and improved access for all. Anything less would be a failure personally and professionally. And unlike in the federal fisheries management system, failures like that mean they would probably be out looking for a new job.

However it may seem, federal managers aren’t out to penalize the recreational sector. Their inability to effectively manage a mixed-sector fishery stems from the fact that their whole management system has evolved around managing only one component of a fishery – the commercial sector. Over the decades, the feds have developed models and found ways to collect hard data on commercial harvest. When it comes to the recreational sector, the federal program bases guesswork on guesswork, especially when it comes to red snapper.

The state approach is simply a better way to manage a fishery as a whole. State agencies put more stock in what a fish population actually looks like and how it’s responding to management in real time, rather than basing everything on estimates of what is caught.

On top of that, each state has demonstrated through their own programs that they can get better estimates than the federal angler data collection program. This allows them to respond more quickly when needed, keep the season open longer when appropriate, and allows a more accurate prediction on season length the following year.

The federal government has had decades to get red snapper management right. It’s time to let the states finally provide the remedy.

Senator Thad Altman and Representative Frank Artiles are co-chairs of the Florida Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.