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Fisheries management council addresses recreational angler concerns

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One concern is the high rate of mortality among red snapper after they are released. Descending devices are seen as a possible solution.

One concern is the high rate of mortality among red snapper after they are released. Descending devices are seen as a possible solution.

On the heels of the passage of the Modern Fish Act, which changes the way recreational fisheries are managed, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council held its quarterly meeting in Jekyll Island, Ga., earlier this month. The American Sportfishing Association reported the results of a series of workshops that focused on ways to improve recreational fisheries management.

“We’re looking for ways to implement alternative management,” Kellie Ralston, southeast fisheries policy director for the ASA, told Trade Only Today. “This seems like an ideal way to do that.”

Ralston said that her organization and the council are both “frustrated” with how management has been progressing. “Some of the things that came out of those meetings were the need for regional management plans because they’re all different fisheries,” she said.

Ralston called red snapper “the poster child of management for everyone,” and said that one of the big concerns for all parties is the amount of dead discards — fish that die after they are released back into the water. The fish suffer barotrauma, which is a negative reaction to a change in pressure. Red snapper are a deep-water fish and when they are released near the surface, some have difficulties making it back to the depths where they normally live.

Because of this, Ralston said the council is working on an amendment that would require the use of descending devices that are used to return the fish to their natural habitat before they are released. “The more fish we can convert from dead discards to actual harvest, the better,” she added.

Another goal of the council is to get a better idea of how many people participate in offshore fisheries, identify what they fish for and compile similar data. Electronic reporting of information such as catches and fish counts is being encouraged. For example, the South Atlantic Council is promoting the use of the MyFishCount app for voluntary recreational reporting. In 2017, information from the app supported the decision for NOAA fisheries to extend that year’s red snapper season due to poor weather conditions.

The council also suggested a pilot-tagging program for species like snowy grouper that have low catch limits and fewer encounters, so officials can get more information about them.

Ralston said she appreciated that NOAA Fisheries released the dates of the 2019 red snapper season earlier than last year, so bait and gear shops can better prepare by having enough equipment on hand.

The ASA’s presentation at the meeting was the culmination of a project sponsored by ASA, Yamaha Marine Group and the Coastal Conservation Association.

An initial workshop to identify the concepts and approaches to take to regional meetings was held with the South Atlantic Council at its September 2018 meeting. As a result, five regional meetings were held from November 2018 through January 2019 in North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

“Yamaha appreciates the hard work of the American Sportfishing Association, the Coastal Conservation Association and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council,” Martin Peters, senior manager, Yamaha Marine government relations, said in a statement. “We hope this is the beginning of positive, productive dialogue on the council and among all stakeholders.”

Ralston said she hopes the Council’s recommendation will continue to generate more discussion on ways to improve recreational fisheries management. “We’re in this little box,” she said. “We’re looking for another way to keep conservation measures in place and still look at ways to increase access.”

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