Anglers turn out to urge Council to avoid devastating, unnecessary closures
At its most recent meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council elected to remove large-scale closures for all bottom fishing from consideration in management measures designed to reduce red snapper release mortality. The council’s decision came after robust public testimony from recreational anglers and the recreational fishing and boating industry urged the Council to focus on less draconian measures to address the controversial issue of recreational discards.
“We applaud the Council being the voice of reason in this matter,” said Scott Whitaker, executive director of CCA South Carolina.
Red snapper have been under an intense rebuilding plan since 2011 when the first-ever modern stock assessment conducted on the species revealed that it was severely overfished and undergoing overfishing. Since then, red snapper seasons have been virtually non-existent, and the fishery has come roaring back. The South Atlantic Council was recently informed that the current population of red snapper is larger than perhaps at any point in its history.
“The red snapper recovery should be considered an incredible conservation success story, but it is becoming another example of the shortcomings in federal fisheries management law,” said Trip Aukeman, advocacy director for CCA Florida.
In making a case for large-scale closures, NOAA Fisheries cited both a lack of older fish in the population and its own controversial data that indicates recreational anglers are releasing so many red snapper that don’t survive that it is causing overfishing of the species. It’s a situation known as a ‘recovery trap’ which occurs when a fishery recovers faster than NOAA’s models expect and federal law treats subsequent increased encounters with a healthy stock as an overfishing crisis.
“Large-scale closures should be an absolute last resort, after everything else has been tried and failed,” said Ted Venker, conservation director for CCA National. “That’s not the case here. There are real concerns over the accuracy of NOAA’s discard mortality data. There is a unique independent stock assessment underway that may find older fish in unique areas like a similar effort did in the Gulf of Mexico recently. And beyond all of that, the Council has been working on measures to achieve additional conservation that aren’t as destructive to recreational angling and the communities that depend on it.”
The South Atlantic Council reaffirmed its commitment to continue working on alternatives such as depth- and distance-based management, targeted closed areas and seasons to address the issue of discard mortality at the Charleston meeting. Several Council members also called on the recreational angling community to do its part by raising awareness of the need to use descending devices and best-fishing practices to reduce release mortality.
“CCA’s ReleaSense program is designed to convey the latest best-fishing practices so that anglers more effectively conserve marine resources,” said Whitaker. “We are happy to partner with the Council to spread that message and we’d like the opportunity to work with the states to develop more accurate and timely recreational data. We greatly appreciate the Council’s recent actions, but we will have to remain vigilant so that NOAA does not attempt to prematurely place restrictions on bottom fishing again.”