Gulf States red snapper management does not consider our grandkids

As my son and I were making our way down the Texas coast for our eleventh red snapper fishing trip of the 2015 season, a close friend involved in the politics of national marine fishery management called me: “Check your inbox, the Center for Coastal Conservation is telling us you only have one weekend to catch Gulf red snapper,” she said.  I pulled over to give my son a break and to read Jeff Angers’s “Let Families Fish, and Not Just This Weekend.” I was shocked by his blatant disregard for context and, well, the truth.

One thing is for certain, Angers’s claim that from 1964 through 1990 the red snapper populations were reduced by 85-percent is firm-footed truth. Overfishing occurred before federal management plans under the tenets of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act were placed upon the fishery in 1994. Since the adoption of the federal management plan in 1994, the fishery has indeed rebounded. In fact, from 2007 through 2015, using science-based annual catch limits and rebuilding timelines, managers have increased the stock’s total allowable annual catch from roughly 5 million pounds to nearly 15 million pounds for the 2015 season.  

{mosads}A 300-percent increase in less than a decade is a success in any management plan and should be applauded. The hard work of all anglers, both commercial fishermen that remained within their share of the annual quota and recreational fishermen that witnessed drastic cuts to access because of consistent quota overages and states’ mismanagement of shared federal and state resources, are paying off.  

Unfortunately, Angers takes exception with the cuts dealt to private angler access, as he should. But what Angers does not provide is the context to his feigned indignation with the federal management system and the reasons for limiting access by providing a reductive explanation of the ways the federal managers measure Gulf of Mexico red snapper recreational take.  

First, my son and I will fish close to twenty days for red snapper this year. All five Gulf states have generous state-water seasons that allow for multiple weekends of snapper fishing. In fact, here in Texas I can fish 365 days a year. My brother in Florida, which has a 70-day season, has close to a ten-weekend season.  

It is because of these generous seasons—often set without the benefit of scientific merit but upon the arbitrary whims of state commissioners’ preferences—that we only get to enjoy one federal-water weekend on our boat. Because the states have opened their waters to generous takes, the National Marine Fisheries Service must compensate for the pressure and reduce federal-water effort.  

It’s a pure balance of access on the managers’ parts to ensure that the resource is rebuilding and doing so under scientific oversight based upon the best-available science.

One place where Angers and I agree is that the federal management system does need mending, but where we disagree is that we need to throw it out and rely upon state agencies to pick up the slack and manage a resource that is responding exceptionally well under the federal management system.  

Comparing recreational data collection to a “Rube Goldberg calculation” while implying that seasons based on its miscalculations are the reasons why Mom and Pop and Kid only have one weekend to fish are disingenuous. His solution to shift management to the states is even more problematic. 

In fact, the state (my home state of Texas) that he mentions as a great steward of the resource and an exceptional management body employs an antiquated red snapper management creel survey that reports recreational take 12 to 14 months after the fishing has occurred. That is not a nimble management model and may report overfishing far too late after it has happened, which is a real possibility under Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) recently passed Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act that rolls back the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s science-based annual catch limits and alters most of the nation’s fisheries rebuilding plans.

I want to see this fishery continue to rebuild. I would love to have a twenty-, thirty-, forty-day season in federal-waters, but until the states comply with their partnership responsibilities in the federal management plan, this will not happen. The federal system is working and recreational anglers are reaping the rewards, which ultimately allows not only our kids increased access to red snapper, but their children’s too.

Allen is a private recreational angler living in San Antonio, Texas.

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