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South Atlantic Red Snapper Season Down to Single Day

By June 13, 2024Uncategorized

NOAA acts unilaterally to limit season, indicates bottom closures to all fishing are likely.


News coming out of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting quickly went from bad to worse this week as NOAA Fisheries announced it is unilaterally implementing a single-day season for red snapper in 2024 through an interim rule process that circumvents the Council. That was quickly followed with threats of further unilateral action by the Secretary of Commerce in the form of a red snapper fishery management plan that will likely seek bottom closures to all fishing and may even seek to limit the number of anglers allowed to fish offshore. NOAA says it is taking the actions to reduce alleged overfishing, but, in fact, the red snapper population has expanded exponentially since it was first found to be overfished in 2008 and is now larger than at any time under management.

Though red snapper seasons have been in the low single digits for roughly 15 years, NOAA says the fish that are caught, released and don’t survive during the closed season when anglers are fishing for other species are enough to dramatically overfish red snapper.

“This is a data failure and a leadership failure,” said Bill Bird, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “The Council recognizes that the information being provided by NOAA with regard to recreational discards does not compute, but rather than address the known data problems, NOAA has decided to act unilaterally to close angling opportunity. This is setting a troubling precedent in the management of recreational fisheries.”

While NOAA has charged that the South Atlantic Council is not doing enough to reduce overfishing, the Council has expressed frustration in the uncertainty of NOAA’s recreational data program. Last year NOAA announced that its data program – the Marine Recreational Information Program – Fishing Effort Survey – may be overestimating recreational effort and harvest by up to 40 percent. Nonetheless, the Councils have been instructed to use the flawed data to make decisions until NOAA makes its third overhaul of the system in 13 years.

“The idea that the Council is shirking its responsibility is completely disingenuous. NOAA has failed to provide timely, accurate data and it is unreasonable to expect knowledgeable stakeholders to just accept things that don’t make sense,” said Bird. “Not only is NOAA out of bounds taking unilateral action here, it is not even acknowledging the constructive steps the Council has taken to gain a better understanding of the situation.”

The Council’s recent actions include supporting several exempted fishing permits for research projects – including some administered by South Atlantic states – that are underway and attempting to validate NOAA’s exorbitant discard data that is driving the “overfishing” designation. The Council has also expressed a desire to await the results of the Great South Atlantic Red Snapper Count – an independent assessment of the red snapper population – to use in its decision-making process.

“There are projects in the pipeline that will shine a light on the status of red snapper and may begin to reconcile these model-based discard projections with reality,” Bird said. “However, NOAA is taking this opportunity to unilaterally pursue a radical agenda of fishing closures and limiting entry for anglers, over the will of the angling public and even over the expressed will of the Council. It’s hard to imagine this is how Congress intended this agency to manage public resources.”

Kevin Hickson

Author Kevin Hickson

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