On October 27, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council announced open commercial and recreational fisheries for Red Snapper. The recreational season opened in federal waters of the South Atlantic for two consecutive three-day weekends, November 3-5 and November 10-12. The commercial fishery opened November 2 with a 75-pound (gutted weight) trip limit and no minimum size limit.
Earlier this year, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross interceded in fisheries management decisions normally handled by a regional fishery management council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Atlantic summer flounder and Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper. (Read more here.) While the latest Red Snapper decision fell within normal council and NOAA procedures, it remains significant. According to one close observer, the South Atlantic Red Snapper decisions reflect increased trust in the science behind annual catch limits and greater dependence on technology to monitor the limited recreational and commercial harvests. Coupled with the possibility of secretarial intervention it would appear the South Atlantic Council was willing to adopt a less conservative catch limit and to open the recreational season for the first time since 2014. The council also offered specific best practices and launched a voluntary, pilot reporting tool to monitor catches and releases at www.MyFishCount.com.
Altogether, these three decisions could affect current efforts to re-authorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act. More specifically, the less conservative decisions to open fisheries could be an important departure from the recent past. It also may confirm that the existing management structure has more inherent flexibility than some thought or greater trust in the science behind setting annual catch limits. Still, reactions to the latest Red Snapper decision are mixed. A press release from the American Sportfishing Association applauds the new recreational season while Pew is concerned about the added risk to a stock susceptible to overfishing.
AFS will continue to monitor marine fishery management decisions with respect to MSA re-authorization proceedings and overall progress toward the goal of no overfishing and sustainable populations.