NOAA Fisheries Announces Shortest Red Snapper Season Ever Anglers Demand Reallocation

Ted Venker
NOAA Fisheries Announces Shortest Red Snapper Season Ever Anglers Demand Reallocation
The long history of upside-down federal management of Gulf red snapper continued this week with NOAA Fisheries announcing more good news about the health of the fishery contrasted against the shortest recreational season on record: just 48 days. Coastal Conservation Association has warned that such absurd measures are inevitable until the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council conducts a reallocation of the fishery based on modern criteria.

"It should be clear to everyone involved in this fishery that reallocation of Gulf red snapper should be a top priority," said Chester Brewer, CCA National Government Relations Committee chairman. "NOAA Fisheries seems much more intent on forcing unwanted Individual Fishing Quotas and days-at-sea programs into this fishery instead of doing the one thing that matters most reallocating it to reflect massive demographic and economic changes that have occurred since it was divided 51 percent commercial and 49 percent recreational."

The shrinking season is tied to directly to the recovering stock. As red snapper become more plentiful, anglers are encountering them more often and the fish they are catching are heavier. Since anglers are catching bigger fish more often, the recreational sector hits its quota more quickly, resulting in a 48-day season in 2011. Even though NOAA Fisheries announced that the recreational quota is increasing from 3.403 million pounds in 2010 to 3.525 million pounds in 2011, the season is projected to be even shorter than last year.

Evidence from offshore anglers indicates a booming red snapper population in the Gulf that has benefitted wildly from a variety of factors, including a 74 percent reduction in shrimp trawl bycatch that was mandated in 2007. The recovering status is good news for a fishery that has long suffered from baffling stock assessments and suspect catch data. A wild card this year is whether NOAA Fisheries will elect to heed calls from the Gulf State governors and the recreational angling community to add more than a million pounds of recreational quota that went uncaught last year due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the 2011 season.

"That would be a welcome stop-gap measure for anglers and the businesses that depend on them along the Gulf Coast, but it does not get to the root of the problem," said Brewer. "There is something systemically wrong with the federal fisheries management system, and nowhere is it more obvious than in Gulf red snapper, where the most economically beneficial sector of the fishery will sit at the dock for more than 10 months this year. Before the Gulf Council embarks on any more controversial management schemes, it has to get the allocation right."

Governors Go to Bat CCA Applauds Effort

Red snapper season in the Gulf is just around the corner, and if Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Gulf state governors have their way, it will be a bit longer than anyone expected. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill last summer, the recreational angling sector fell short of catching its quota of red snapper by almost one-third. Gov. Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have all presented letters to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council urging that more than one million pounds of red snapper uncaught in 2010 be added to the 2011 season.

"We are writing to urge the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to recommend adding the 2010 uncaught recreational quota for red snapper to the 2011 quota to increase the projected length of the season," Gov. Scott writes. "Given the present economic condition of Florida, we believe the addition of this quota, and the extension of the season, would provide a much needed economic boost to this region that is still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill."

"I acknowledge the red snapper population is currently being rebuilt and understand the strict calculations used in setting commercial and recreational quotas," Gov. Perry writes. "As such, I ask that you consider the region's economic recovery and health of the fishery in considering my request. By building on the leftover 2010 quota, I believe we are satisfying both requirements, and I look forward to your swift and favorable action."

Red snapper are an exceptionally popular sportfish, and have been the subject of federal management for more than two decades. After years of frustration, setbacks and sacrifice for recreational anglers, the population of red snapper is on a steady path to recovery, although strict rebuilding guidelines are still in effect to reach rebuilding goals set by fisheries managers. The red snapper season in 2010 was the shortest on record at just 53 days, even though anglers almost universally report a booming red snapper fishery in the Gulf.

"We are truly grateful to Gov. Perry and his staff for standing up for recreational anglers on this issue," said CCA Texas Executive Director Robby Byers. "He is exactly on target we need to be mindful of the health of the fishery, but with the underage from last year and the robust recovery our members are witnessing in the Gulf, it would be a tremendous boost to the region to create more opportunities for angling offshore. Gov. Perry continues to be an excellent friend to Texas' anglers."