The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) reminds anglers that the recreational season for Gulf of Mexico red snapper in federal waters is now officially closed. According to a release from the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) issued late last week, the closure which went into effect this morning “was established to limit the harvest of red snapper in the Gulf and help rebuild overfished stocks so that anglers can enjoy better red snapper fishing in the future.”
Despite the fact that red snapper was officially delisted as an overfished stock in 2009, RFA said anglers have been rewarded with a measly 48-day season in 2011, the shortest season on record for a red snapper fishery with a June 1 start date. RFA’s Executive Director Jim Donofrio said great rebuilding progress has been made with regard to the red snapper fishery over the last few years, adding that recreational anglers are growing tired of hearing about how good the fishing will be in the future. “NOAA continues spewing claims that cutbacks today will yield to greater benefits tomorrow, but that simply doesn’t hold water any longer,” Donofrio said.
“Accountability measures and rigid annual catch limits coupled with a broken recreational data collection system have made this idealized goal of fisheries management completely unattainable, and until significant reforms can be made to the federal fisheries law, NOAA is being disingenuous by continuing to make statements about our future,” he added.
The Council notes that the Gulf snapper season has consistently closed prior to the posted September 30th closure date, while adding that members have asked NOAA Fisheries Service to develop an emergency rule that would suspend the September 30 recreational red snapper closure date in order to give the Regional Administrator more leeway to open a fall season if or when quotas are not met during the summer season.
RFA said fishermen up and down the coastal U.S. have been pleading with NOAA for additional leeway and management flexibility ever since the federal fisheries law was reauthorized by Congress back in 2007. “Rigid timelines and annual catch limits based on flawed harvest data have been devastating to our recreational fishing industry, and America’s anglers are growing frustrated by the lack of response from the federal fisheries service,” Donofrio said. “We’ve had enough moratoriums on angler access, what we need right now is improved data collection methodologies as required by law.”
Donofrio said he spoke with an RFA member last week who was fishing the Gulf and had encountered one of the NOAA research vessels doing longline surveys on bottom fish. “Our guy was on the fish and radioed over to the NOAA vessel that they were off the mark by a good 100 feet. Do you know that NOAA captain replied back, ‘what’s the difference, it’s only a hundred feet.’ Can you believe this is what our government calls best available science?”
RFA says that in terms of sampling surveys, 100 feet could be the difference between one and 1,000 fish. “The data being used by NOAA Fisheries is atrocious, not just recreational data collection but the trawl surveys themselves,” Donofrio said, adding “Things are not going to get any better just waiting around for the bureaucracy to improve, we need an Act of Congress and we need it now.”
Currently, the Gulf Council is working on an amendment that could revise the structure of the fall recreational snapper season. Three actions contained in the amendment are:
Revise or eliminate the fixed closed season. Currently, the recreational red snapper season must close by September 30. Pushing back or eliminating the closure date will give the Council more management options.
Allow weekends only, or weekdays only fishing periods. This gives the council more options for in-season management.
Increase the 2012 red snapper Total Allowable Catch based on the 2011 red snapper rerun analysis.
Public hearings for this regulatory amendment will be held sometime after the August Council meeting which will be held at the Crowne Plaza in Austin, TX from August 15-19. Details can be found at http://www.gulfcouncil.org.
According to NOAA Fisheries, the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Surveys (MRFSS) are still being used in 2011 for recreational harvest data, and is expected to be carried over until 2012. “The 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act was supposed to put an end to MRFSS methodologies, but the data is still here and it’s still impacting negatively on our community,” Donofrio said, adding that MRFSS projections for the season are what’s being used to estimate that the red snapper quota was met by anglers as of July 18.
“The National Research Council (NRC) purposefully cautioned that MRFSS could not be used for real time monitoring of recreational harvest, yet NOAA continues to defy the expert advice of NRC’s scientific panel by using MRFSS for real-time quota monitoring in the recreational sector and for projecting landings into the future,” Donofrio said.
“While the weatherman may still have a job if his weekly forecast is off by a few degrees and no jobs are loss due to his inaccuracies, fishermen and fishing related businesses feel a very painful impact on their bottom line resultant of NOAA’s irresponsible use of MRFSS and frivolous use of limited NOAA resources on pet projects such as catch shares,” he added.
Signed by President Bush in January of 2007, the newly reauthorized Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act mandated that MRFSS be replaced by a new methodology known as the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) as of January of 2009. Recently, NOAA Assistant Administrator of Fisheries, Eric Schwaab told a national sportfishing magazine that the new MRIP program “could” be ready for rollout sometime in 2012, a full three years past the congressionally mandated deadline.
“Three years late and hundred feet short, I’m just glad our Defense Department doesn’t operate as inefficiently as the Department of Commerce, I’d hate to think where our freedoms would be today,” Donofrio said.
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