Shortened recreational season brings allocation issue to the forefront
Recreational anglers were cheered earlier this year by news that after decades of federal management, culminating with a two-fish bag limit and a 74-day season in 2009, scientists suddenly announced that the Gulf red snapper stock is no longer undergoing overfishing, which is a significant step on the road to recovery.
However, the reward for decades of sacrifice announced at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting this week is a good news/bad news scenario for recreational anglers who will see their quota increase to about 3.4 million pounds in 2010, from 2.5 million pounds in 2009, but will also see their season shrink by at least two weeks.
“Thanks to a combination of factors, including significant bycatch reduction measures for the shrimp fleet, the stock is improving,” said Dr. Russell Nelson, CCA Gulf Fisheries consultant. “But clearly the Council now needs to take into account the problems caused by the increasing average size of the fish being caught and take a long overdue look at reallocation.”
Even with a recovering stock, the hundreds of thousands of anglers pursuing red snapper in the Gulf are still left with just 49 percent of the total allowable catch, while about 400 commercial fishermen are currently entitled to 51 percent of the harvest through a catch share system. A rebounding stock means recreational anglers are finding it easier to catch red snapper, and the fish they catch are bigger. With a quota set in total pounds, the only way the government is capable of controlling recreational harvest is to shorten the season.
“Based on current data and from reports by recreational fisherman themselves, it appears that we have a strongly recovering red snapper fishery with larger fish being taken by recreational anglers which tend to skew the data on the pounds of fish being caught by recreational fishermen,” said Tim Strickland, chairman of CCA’s Gulf Fisheries Committee. “The inequitable result being proposed is the shortest season ever for recreational fishermen in 2010.”
CCA has long called for reallocation of fisheries where appropriate based on an economic analysis to provide the greatest economic benefit to the country.