Atlantic red drum assessment cause for concern

ASMFC evaluation of red drum stock raises questions

Posted on May 06, 2016

The long-awaited red drum stock assessment was presented to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) this week, and the initial results show cause for concern. 

The Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR) for both the southern portion of the stock (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina) and the northern portion (North Carolina and points north) should be at least 30 percent.  This means the spawning stock for red drum must be at least 30 percent that of an unfished stock.  The estimates revealed this week indicate an SPR of 17 percent for the southern portion and just 9.1 percent for the northern portion.  Recreational anglers in several states along the Atlantic Coast have voiced concerns about the status of the red drum population, but these estimates, if correct, are alarming. They indicate stocks could be slipping below a level needed to maintain a healthy stock.

The stock assessment model the ASMFC used has never been applied to red drum before, and that has some ASMFC Commissioners wanting more information before taking action. The new model has been problematic since the beginning and the stock assessment results were delayed for months due to pervasive questions. It required extensive collaboration between the reviewers and assessment scientists to even complete.  The uncertainty surrounding the outputs of the red drum assessment caused the ASMFC’s South Atlantic Board to vote 10-0 this week to not accept it until the ASMFC Technical Committee can meet again to answer some of the questions.

That 10-0 vote is significant in that it indicates a unanimous opinion by primarily professional state fishery managers on the uncertainty of the results from the stock assessment. In fishery management processes, it is extremely rare to see unanimous votes on this type of action and so clearly there are legitimate concerns with the assessment that must be addressed.

“The assessment, combined with the concerns of local anglers, raises a troubling red flag,” said Richen Brame, regional fisheries director for Coastal Conservation Association.  “If the results of the assessment are close to accurate, then red drum conservation measures are called for immediately. It will be imperative for the ASMFC and the states to work together to enact regulations that reverse the decline and set the stock back on a path to sustainability as quickly as possible. We’ve seen that model work to save some of the most important fisheries we have in the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Once the results of the assessment have been confirmed, CCA is confident that the recreational angling community will work together with the ASMFC to ensure the future of this important recreational fishery remains healthy along the Atlantic Coast.

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