The Coastal Conservation Association is fighting federal officials over red snapper reductions for Mississippi and Alabama in 2021 and is urging individual anglers to join the battle before April.
According to CCA, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council is considering major reductions in the catch quotas for the two states, by 52% in Mississippi and 62% in Alabama, but it tabled the action at its winter meeting in January until it convenes again April 12-15 to establish red snapper seasons and limits for 2021.
The CCA feels the Council, a federal bureau of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that oversees recreational and commercial fishing regulations in the Gulf, is unfairly using harvest data reported by the two states to prop up an unreliable system based more on estimates instead of actual numbers. The Council in 2020 announced the in-season harvest data provided by the states through a mandatory recreational fish reporting system must be “calibrated back into NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) data for management.”
Essentially, the CCA said, the new, real-time data was ordered to go through a mathematical conversion to produce harvest results in the old MRIP numbers. Those converted numbers indicate that Mississippi and Alabama are significantly overharvesting their quotas, which the states’ statistics do not show.
According to CCA, that method effectively binds the new data to an antiquated system that the National Academy of Sciences labeled as totally flawed.
“As long as NOAA insists on tying future management to a history of mistakes and bad data, we will never see progress in this fishery despite the best efforts of the states and the Congress,” said Ted Venker, CCA’s conservation director. “The state systems were designed for use in this kind of management, and are the best science available. At the same time, the Great Red Snapper County shows very plainly that the stock isn’t overfished. Penalizing Mississippi and Alabama anglers like this feels like mindless mismanagement.”
The Great Red Snapper Count was funded by Congress as an independent, two-year project to get a true estimate of the Gulf red snapper population. It found a population three times larger than NOAA fisheries numbers. The Council received the count numbers in November, but the findings are undergoing a peer-review process though the Council’s Science and Statistical Committee.
“The hope is between now and April, NOAA will manage to plug the new numbers into an interim analysis to avoid penalizing Mississippi and Alabama so severely in the short run,” Venker said. “Using the new data to prop us NOAA’s broken system is not how the results of the count should be used, but it could solve NOAA’s latest self-manufactured crisis. There is a lot of flexibility to avoid crushing those two states that the agency seems unwilling to use.”
With several Council members questioning the need to take action before the Count’s results were taken into account, action was tabled until April when CCA hopes the two states won’t be harshly penalized.
“Ideally, between now and April a solution can be found, but the ultimate solution is to delegate full responsibility for the fishery to the states once and for all to end this endless cycle of management by crisis,” Venker said.
CCA of Mississippi is supporting efforts by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources to counter the 52-percent reduction in the state’s quota. The state agency’s Tails n’ Scales harvest system has provided for two years the ability to open and close seasons based on real-time data. CCA is urging recreational fishermen to comment to the Council on red snapper prior to the April 12-15 meeting. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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