Snapper Quotas in Flux Again

NOAA Fisheries wants Gulf Coast states to revert back to the data collection model that the recreational fishing community has widely criticized.
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Two years after NOAA Fisheries allowed Gulf Coast states to develop their own recreational data collection for red snapper, it is now asking those states to shift back to the previous collection model.

The Marine Recreational Information Program has been widely criticized by the recreational fishing community as being aimed at commercial fishing, limiting the accuracy of recreational impacts and prompting states to develop their own data collection systems, according to the Center for Sportfishing Policy.

“There is clearly some gamesmanship going on, and rather than treat it as a partnership, NOAA Fisheries seems to want to continue its adversarial relationship with the states and with recreational anglers,” Ted Venker, conservation director for the Coastal Conservation Association, said in a statement.

NOAA Fisheries told Gulf states that it will adjust harvest data to be more in line with MRIP — a system that would show that Texas, Alabama and Mississippi have overfished their quotas by significant margins, according to CSP.

If is successful, it would likely mean that private-boat recreational anglers in Alabama would have no season in federal waters for one to two years; Mississippi anglers would be shut out for the next three years.

After sending its recreational data to NOAA Fisheries 39 times over the past two and a half years, Texas was notified a few weeks ago that NOAA Fisheries had elected to apply a different approach to the length-to-weight conversion in the state’s data and determined the state was overfishing its quota, according to CSP.

Rather than work through the new formula, the agency placed a notice in the Federal Register announcing its intent to take the overage out of future seasons. As a result, Texas anglers will face a 2021 season with just a couple of days in federal waters.

“The federal system for recreational anglers was so poor and untimely that the Gulf Council passed Amendment 50 to allow the states to develop their own systems,” Venker said. “After the states invested the time and money to build more timely and accurate data systems and operated them for more than two years, NOAA Fisheries now comes back and says that all the new data must be converted back into its flawed system for management purposes. And it puts us right back where we were before Amendment 50 was adopted. It is absurd.”

In response, more than a dozen Gulf Coast congressmen signed a letter urging U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to prevent action on the calibration of state harvest data to federal data.

The representatives are asking Ross to delay action until at least the Great Red Snapper Count is completed — a two-year stock assessment being conducted by more than a dozen marine research institutions, which was funded by Congress.

“This all comes down to which is considered the best available science,” said Chris Horton, director of fisheries policy for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.“MRIP was never designed to manage to in-season closures, so the states developed their own programs in order to provide their anglers with more access without going over the quotas. Now that they’ve proven they can very successfully manage the harvest during the season, the state programs, not MRIP, should be declared to be the best available science to inform Gulf red snapper management.”

The letter also asked Secretary Ross to use his authority to declare the data from the Gulf states as the best available science to inform future management decisions.

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