Red Snapper and the Modern Fish Act
For years, frustration with federal management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico has been increasing. For many, when NOAA announced a federal red snapper season of just three days, it was the last straw.
Out-of-date data, flawed methodologies for counting fish, and a massive disconnect between the Gulf states and NOAA have all led to the current situation.
Even NOAA acknowledges the fish are there. According to their numbers, anglers are catching red snapper at two and a half times the rate they did in 2007. Also, the average weight of harvested red snapper has more than doubled from 3.3 pounds in 2007 to 7.25 pounds in 2016.
According to Chris Macaluso of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “It’s just another in a long line of examples of how dysfunctional recreational-fishing management is on the federal level. The Gulf states have found a better way. They’ve developed better technologies. They’re getting a better handle on who’s fishing and when and what they’re catching. It’s time for NOAA to catch up.”
Fortunately, a bill called the Modern Fish Act is working its way through Congress. Officially known as the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, it can help NOAA “catch up” in three ways:
1. Improve angler harvest data – It would require federal managers to explore other data sources that have tremendous potential to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic reporting (e.g., through smartphone apps).
2. Require reviews of who gets the fish – It would require fisheries managers to finally provide a long-overdue review of how fishing quotas for individual species are divided between the recreational and commercial sectors. Rather than being based on decades-old decisions, the Modern Fish Act would establish clear, objective criteria upon which these decisions could be based, and require periodic review to ensure these allocations are working.
3. Recognize the importance recreational fishing – Even though recreational and commercial fishing are fundamentally different, they are basically managed the same way at the federal level. The Modern Fish Act will authorize NOAA to use management strategies that have been successful at the state level.
Improve data, review decisions, and fix things that aren’t working – sounds like common sense to me.
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