When the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meets April 12-15, the hottest topic will be the zealotry of NOAA Fisheries to calibrate recreational red snapper harvest data collected by the five Gulf States to the data collected by the federal government.
The federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) – the faulty survey that was the catalyst for the states collecting their own data in the first place – did a terrible job of collecting recreational red snapper data in Mississippi and Alabama for years. Therefore when the data is calibrated, it punishes these two states the most.
If NOAA Fisheries rushes the council to calibrate the data in April, they will likely reduce the private recreational red snapper quota by half or more in Mississippi and Alabama. That means their anglers may end up with the same dismal few-day red snapper seasons they had under the ill-informed federal management.
NOAA Fisheries says they are only trying to achieve an apples-to-apples comparison. But how can you ever get an apples-to-apples comparison when state data is like an iPhone and MRIP data is like a rotary phone?
There is a strong case for a timeout before state management of Gulf red snapper goes up in flames. Putting the states in charge has yielded remarkable results over the last three years thanks to the states’ ability to collect more timely and accurate data. Additionally, the health of the fishery is better than we ever knew.
NOAA Fisheries is forcing the Gulf Council to rush to their judgment as though it is a fait accompli, but it is not. The facts are not decided, much less the outcome. There is an incredible amount of new information in play that should be considered before any adjustments are made.
Results from the Great Red Snapper Count – the independent, authoritative stock assessment conducted by more than a dozen marine research institutions across the Gulf Coast that was authorized and funded by Congress – show approximately 800 million pounds of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. That is three times the amount NOAA Fisheries previously estimated in the water. To put this number in perspective, the Gulf-wide private recreational red snapper quota is 4.26 million pounds. The federal “managers” appear to be fighting over one-half of one percent of the stock.