Ruling defends process to update allocations in Gulf red grouper fishery
In a ruling that has profound implications for federal fisheries management, the US District Court for the District of Columbia has confirmed an important precedent regarding the use of improved historical recreational harvest data to update allocations in marine fisheries. The Court’s ruling comes in a lawsuit initiated by the commercial fishing industry that attempted to roll back an updated allocation in the Gulf of Mexico red grouper fishery. Coastal Conservation Association and the State of Louisiana both intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of recreational anglers.
“This is an important win for recreational angling,” said Bill Bird, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “It is a technical issue, but with the federal management process set to recalibrate historical recreational data in every fishery, it was absolutely critical to defend the precedent set in Gulf red grouper so that real-world recreational fishing opportunities were not dramatically reduced in the future. We are pleased that the Court has confirmed how these recalibrations should be considered and implemented.”
At issue are recalibrations of NOAA’s historical recreational harvest data using improved techniques that have been deemed the best scientific information available. The recalibration process often results in a new understanding of the fishery population and impacts the formula for determining allocations that have been based on past-catch history. Commercial and recreational catch data are often the most robust datasets managers have and are the driving force in stock assessments determining the size of the stock and thus the allowable catch.
While the results of recalibration in the red grouper fishery did not reduce the commercial allocation by a single fish, the allocation percentages changed due to new estimates of the population size resulting from a new stock assessment. In the case of red grouper, the allocation changed from 76 percent commercial / 24 percent recreational to 59.3 percent commercial / 40.7 percent recreational.
“The Court has confirmed the concept that the recalibration of historical recreational data is not a reallocation; it is simply a data correction that provides a more accurate picture of what is actually happening in a fishery,” said Bird.