Errors in stock assessment cast doubt on need for total recreational closure
Coastal Conservation Association is calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to halt implementation of a temporary rule closing the recreational gag grouper fishery in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico until significant errors discovered in the stock assessment have been corrected. The six-month closure, announced by NOAA this week, is set to go into effect January 1, 2011.
“The stock assessment on which this rule is based has been shown to have errors, by an order of magnitude, in the amount of commercial discards, and additional errors in estimates of recreational discards,” said Chester Brewer, chairman CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “A revision of the assessment is already in the works, so the entire picture for the outlook of gag grouper could change just in the next few weeks. There is no need to cause this kind of uproar when managers know there are errors in the science. It only adds to the general feeling of distrust between NOAA and the recreational angling community.”
In addition to the uncertainty in the stock assessment, recreational anglers are also frustrated that the proposed rule closes the recreational fishery entirely, yet allows the commercial sector to land 100,000 pounds of gag grouper. The commercial quota is to allow “the retention of some accidentally caught gag that would otherwise be discarded dead at sea.”
“In the recent history of this particular fishery, federal managers have run roughshod over the interests of recreational anglers, and a total closure of gags based on known faulty science while allowing commercial boats to keep 100,000 pounds is just an another unnecessary slap in the face,” said Brewer.
In January of 2009, CCA released an economic study by Gentner Consulting Group showing that the maximum economic value of the Gulf grouper fishery would be achieved by allocating 100 percent of the fishery to the recreational sector. However, at its meeting in February 2009, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council chose to ignore the study and opted instead to proceed with an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program for Gulf grouper that proposed to permanently lock a significant portion of that fishery into the commercial sector forever. In September of 2009, CCA sued the federal government in federal district court over the Gulf grouper catch share program. The suit is still under consideration by the federal district court in Fort Myers, Florida.
“We have many challenges in federal fisheries, and the long-term solution for many of them is for NOAA to take a serious look at reallocating fisheries based on factors like economics and changing demographics,” said Brewer. “In the short term, however, NOAA can demonstrate a willingness to be reasonable and at least wait for the errors in the assessment to be corrected before deciding on a course of action for this fishery.”
CCA is the largest marine resource conservation group of its kind in the nation. With almost 100,000 members in 17 state chapters, CCA has been active in state, national and international fisheries management issues since 1977. Visit www.JoinCCA.org for more information.