(Baton Rouge, LA – April 10, 2014) The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, an appointed body of state and federal fishery managers for the region’s federal fisheries, voted in favor of an emergency measure today that will limit the recreational red snapper season to 11 days with a two fish per day, per angler limit. This decision comes after a federal judge ruled the current management of the recreational fishery illegal.
The Council faced a May 15, 2014 deadline by the court to adopt adequate “accountability measures” that must ensure the recreational fishery will not exceed its harvest limit. According to its own data, the failed recreational management policies implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Council led to overharvesting of red snapper during six of the last seven recreational fishing seasons. The shortening of the 2014 season is a result of the Council applying a buffer to ensure that landings remain within the fishery’s sustainable limit.
“As the overfished red snapper population rebuilds, it is important for the Council to keep the fishery within a sustainable limit set by scientists. We can understand the time limits the Council faced for the 2014 season, but closures and limited seasons are never going to work, they haven’t worked for years, and it is time for the Council to step up,” said Pamela Baker, Gulf of Mexico Director for Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans program. “The Council needs to examine new ideas that can give anglers the flexibility to fish year-round and for-hire businesses the freedom to take customers out for red snapper when it makes sense for them – and do all of this while conserving the red snapper population for generations to come.”
The Council’s vote will need to be approved by the Secretary of Commerce in order to take effect for the 2014 season, which is set to start on June 1st. A decision today by the state of Louisiana to adopt a year-round recreational fishing season in state waters, a move that will make the state fishery inconsistent with federal regulations, will likely decrease the length of the red snapper season even further.
“Until the Council adopts long-term solutions to the shortened seasons recreational fishermen are facing, this chaos will continue throughout the Gulf,” said Baker.
The red snapper fishery faced this kind of turmoil in the commercial sector several years ago before implementing a year-round individual fishing quota program that has kept commercial fishermen within their sustainable limit since 2007. “It is time for the Council to overhaul management as it did when it fixed the commercial fishery. There is no reason to continue the chaos and economic and ecological waste of the current system,” said Baker. “This outdated and misguided approach directly prevents recreational fishermen from reaping benefits of the rebuilding red snapper fishery, like longer and more predictable seasons.”
There were positive steps made this week by the Council through its support of a pilot project for Alabama charter for-hire operators. The pilot would test an allocation-based management program for charter for-hire boats that is similar to a pilot already underway with 17 headboat operators in Florida, Alabama and Texas. The Council also moved forward in developing an individual fishing quota management plan for the Gulf’s recreational for-hire fleet. This would be a permanent management change using a similar approach to both of these pilots.
“Fixing management for the recreational for-hire industry should remain a priority for the Council. These pilots and the proposed management plan are important steps toward solving the problems facing anglers in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Baker. “The Council should apply this same urgency to fixing failed management for the entire recreational fishery.”
Unfortunately, the Council took a step back by continuing to pursue the distraction of Amendment 28, a proposal that would take a portion of the commercial red snapper fishery and give it to the recreational fishery. The Council voted by a one-vote margin to attach must-pass accountability measures to Amendment 28. This move was a clear attempt to force support for a controversial reallocation scheme that is opposed by every restaurant association in the Gulf as well as the National Restaurant Association, many fishermen, seafood businesses, and Environmental Defense Fund.
“The Council needs to move beyond the distraction of reallocation and focus on management changes that can actually improve fishing for recreational fishermen,” said Baker. “Management changes like tags and for-hire quota programs could provide longer seasons and better fishing opportunities while conserving fish populations for future generations. Reallocation will do none of these things over the long-term.”
The next meeting of the council will take place June 23 through 27 in Key West, Florida. Further debate on new management ideas for recreational fishermen, reallocation of red snapper, and other issues will likely be on the agenda.