WASHINGTON, D. C. — South Carolina’s senators and congressmen co-signed a letter along with colleagues from the southeast asking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to suspend consideration of area closures in the South Atlantic until data from the ongoing South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count can be integrated into management decisions.
The letter to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad contains signatures from 30 U.S. senators and representatives throughout the southeast.
U. S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina, along with S. C. Representatives Nancy Mace, Joe Wilson, and Jeff Duncan, co-signed the letter.
Over the last 10 years, fishery managers have been successfully working to rebuild the red snapper stock in the South Atlantic. However, as the stock recovers, more fish are being caught and thrown back.
Due to a lack of good independent data, South Atlantic red snapper seasons continue to be extremely limited, with only a two-day recreational season this year. To fill the gaps, Congress has appropriated $5.1 million over the last three years to do the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count, which will provide better data on total abundance, genomics, and mortality data.
“The South Carolina Boating and Fishing Alliance (SCBFA) appreciates the support on this issue from our members of Congress,” said Alliance CEO Gettys Brannon. “Our Alliance members understand the importance of strong and sustainable fisheries to our economy. While the two-day fishing season for red snappers this year is ridiculously short, full closures would be devastating for the livelihoods of many and would decimate our local fishing economy. We have made progress in reviving the South Atlantic red snapper stock and the ongoing Great Red Snapper Count will provide important data to demonstrate progress. Full area closures without the benefit of the research data would be bureaucratic overreach of the worst kind.”
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will be holding a public comment period on the proposed regulation on September 14th at 4 p.m. in Charleston at the Town and Country Inn (2008 Savannah Hwy, Charleston, SC 29407).
The letter’s co-signers include: Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rick Scott (R-FL), Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC), and Tim Scott (R-SC); and Representatives John Rutherford (R-FL), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Daniel Webster (R-FL), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Brian J. Mast (R-FL), Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Al Lawson (D-FL), Gregory T. Murphy, M.D. (R-NC), Michael Waltz (R-FL), Neal P. Dunn, M.D. (R-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Austin Scott (R-GA), Garret Graves (R-LA), A. Drew Ferguson, IV (R-GA), C. Scott Franklin (R-FL), Richard Hudson (R-NC), Byron Donalds (R-FL), Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL), Ted Budd (R-NC), Kat Cammack (R-FL), Val Butler Demings (D-FL), and Darren Soto (D-FL).
The letter was led by Congressman John Rutherford of Florida with assistance from the American Sportfishing Association and the South Carolina Boating and Fishing Alliance.
The full text of the letter may be found here and below:
Dear Administrator Spinrad,
We write today to share our serious concerns and urge you not to consider area closures in the South Atlantic for the red snapper fishery. While it is important to ensure that our fisheries are managed in a sustainable way, area closures would have immense economic implications in our states and we currently lack the independent data to support the decision. Red snapper is a highly sought-after species in the South Atlantic and major economic driver. In 2018 alone, the 6-day recreational season added $13 million to the gross domestic product (GDP) for the region.
Over the last 10 years, fisheries managers have been working to regrow the red snapper stock, and by all accounts, these efforts have been successful. Anyone who has been out on the water recently will tell you that red snapper are plentiful. However, the current methods and data used to determine the health of the stock and ultimately inform management decisions prevent us from having an accurate picture of whether many red snapper are actually in the South Atlantic.
We now find ourselves in a catch 22. We regularly hear from our constituents that red snapper are so abundant they are all people can catch, yet the recreational season this year was only two days. As the stock has grown, and more encounters are happening out of season, more fish are being discarded and ultimately dying because of pressure-related injuries. These discards ultimately count against fisherman, leaving them with short or non-existent seasons, even after complying with all the rules.
Now, on top of a short red snapper season, it is our understanding that there are discussions about broad area or season closures of all bottom fishing to stop red snapper encounters altogether. This decision would be crippling economically for our states that rely heavily on our coastal economy. Area closures would have significant effects on commercial fisherman, for-hire captains, recreational fishermen, and all the businesses that support our robust fishing industry.
Before closures are considered, it is vital that we use the best and most up to date science when making management decisions for the red snapper fishery. To that end, Congress has provided $5.1 million over the last three years for the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count. This study, which began in 2021, will provide independent data on the red snapper population by 2025. To make a decision with such sweeping consequences when we have better data from the Great Red Snapper Count and state surveys on the way, would be irresponsible.
We urge you to suspend all consideration of area closures and other significant management decisions until the Great Red Snapper Count and other independent data is completed and integrated in the stock assessment process.
The South Carolina Boating and Fishing Alliance (SCBFA) is a nonprofit organization representing the state’s boat and fishing tackle manufacturers, who have a $5 billion a year economic impact in the state and support 23,000 jobs. Industry members, along with dealers, retailers, boaters and anglers, are working together to protect and grow this important economic sector while engaging in public policy issues to conserve the state’s important waterways. The SCBFA was officially launched in February 2021. Chris Butler of Butler Marine chairs the SCBFA.