The rollercoaster of red snapper management in the South Atlantic took yet another turn this week when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a six-month delay in implementing large-scale closures to all bottom fishing as a management measure to recover red snapper stocks. Expectations are that NOAA will use the extra time to fully process a new stock assessment showing red snapper stocks are in better shape than previously thought and hopefully reduce or even eliminate the total bottom closure as a result.
"We are relieved that NOAA heeded our call to review the science before implementing such a devastating management measure on the South Atlantic," said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA's National Government Relations Committee. "This is another example of how important it is for groups like CCA to be engaged in the management process, especially when things aren't going well. However, the root of this problem still exists in federal fisheries law, and we will very likely find ourselves in this kind of predicament again in the near future without a legislative fix to prevent it."
The delayed closure was the result of Amendment 17A to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery, and was based on a 2008 stock assessment. That assessment indicated that snapper stocks were so overfished that in order to end overfishing of the stock, managers had to prohibit all bottom fishing in a massive area to avoid red snapper mortality even as bycatch. The fishery became the center of a firestorm of discontent over federal fisheries management as it became apparent that not only had a profound lack of science on red snapper allowed the fishery to reach a crisis point but that NOAA was grossly unprepared to implement tough new federal conservation laws by any tool other than the most draconian management measures available, such as total fishing closures.
In response to the crisis, the Fishery Conservation Transition Act (FCTA) was introduced earlier this year to give federal marine fisheries managers the time, resources and more specific direction necessary to address the chronic deficiencies in data collection and science that have plagued federal fisheries like red snapper.
FCTA was introduced by bi-partisan Members of the U.S. Senate and House. Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and David Vitter (R-La.) are co-sponsoring the Senate bill (S.3594). The House bill (H.R.6316) is co-authored by Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus co-chairmen Reps. Dan Boren (D-Okla.); Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.); Mike Ross (D-Ark.), and Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). Other co-sponsors of the House measure include Reps. Rodney Alexander (R-La.); Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam); Henry Brown (R-S.C.); Rob Wittman (R-Va.), and Don Young (R-Alaska). FCTA is supported by CCA, American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, Center for Coastal Conservation, Congressional Sportsman Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association and others.
"This entire episode has been traumatic for anglers and the businesses that depend on them all along the South Atlantic coast. The supposed best science that we had two years ago nearly shut down the entire South Atlantic to bottom fishing, and today it appears we don't need that. Yet we still have a closed red snapper fishery and a great deal of confusion and mistrust in the recreational angling community," said Brewer. "No other wildlife resources are managed in such a haphazard manner. We need FCTA to maintain our conservation principles while addressing the chronic lack of basic information in marine fisheries management. We don't need another train wreck like this one."