Here it is
The management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the most contentious fisheries issues in recent history. The problems that are ingrained in the red snapper fishery today are not overnight developments. They have been brewing for almost 30 years, since 1979 when the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council first determined that red snapper stocks were overfished. Soon after that determination, the recreational harvest declined an estimated 87 percent and prompted the Gulf Council to create its “Reef Fish Management Plan,” beginning a series of starts, stops and reverses in federal management initiatives that set an uncertain course for this troubled species.
The crux of the problem has always been that both commercial and recreational fishermen were allowed to fish the larger, mature fish too aggressively, while at the same time the juvenile population was being decimated as bycatch in shrimp trawls. Unwillingness on the part of the federal government to implement and enforce the necessary conservation measures has allowed this fishery to drift through almost three decades of decline.
In 2004, the first in a series of peer-reviewed stock assessments indicated that those factors had combined to reduce red snapper, a long-lived, slow-breeding species, to dangerously low levels, down to a mere fraction of a healthy breeding population by some estimates. The assessments, regarded as some of the most intensely peer-reviewed science on a single fishery, painted a grim picture of a fishery in need of desperate measures.
In 2007, after decades of mismanagement, the federal government finally adopted a management plan that has all the pieces to recover this species. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), along with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, has adopted an interim plan that includes a 107-day season with a total allowable catch (TAC) of 6.5 million pounds for both commercial and recreational anglers, reduced from 9.12 million pounds. The plan mandates a reduction in shrimp bycatch mortality by 74% and requires the use of circle hooks and venting devices on all vessels. The plan also lowers the recreational bag limit to two fish with a 16-inch minimum size limit. The commercial fishery was given a 13-inch minimum as a way to reduce the near-100% bycatch mortality in that fishery.
After decades of half-measures and outright neglect, this plan represents a step forward to recover red snapper once and for all. To produce as complete a recovery as quickly as possible, NMFS has asked that all Gulf Coast states adopt these guidelines. CCA has been involved in the management of red snapper for more than two decades and actively advocated for the conservation measures specified by this management plan. We are calling on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to do its part and adhere to the federal regulations.
CCA Texas put that position on record at the first public scoping meeting that was held by TPWD in Port Arthur on January 3rd. Comments by other attendees at that meeting indicated that there is still a great deal of confusion on the realities of this complex fishery. An extremely narrow view of the fishery has led some to believe that Texas should not allow the federal government to ever set conservation measures in state waters. Some have the perception that red snapper are plentiful in state waters and therefore conservation of the stock should not be our concern. And some are convinced that a two-fish bag limit will destroy coastal communities in the state.
Given the long history of red snapper and the amount of confusion, uncertainty and misinformation that is currently circulating, it is necessary to clarify our position.
We believe that Texas is much better prepared to manage fisheries in state waters than the federal government, but with red snapper mired in such an overfished condition, it would be grossly irresponsible for any state to jeopardize the overall recovery by grabbing a bigger piece of the pie for itself. Fish swim, and therefore state and federal boundaries mean little in the overall conservation strategy.
We believe that if the anecdotal evidence is correct and we happen to have an abundance of snapper in our state waters, it is even more incumbent upon us to conserve those fish to help rebuild the stock.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, CCA Texas is a marine resource conservation organization. Since its creation in 1977, CCA has supported science-based resource management. When the science called for it, recreational fishermen made sacrifices to help important species like redfish and speckled trout recover and today we are reaping the benefits with our world-class fisheries. It is no different with red snapper today. By supporting the federal regulations in state waters, CCA Texas is confident that we will reap the rewards of a healthy red snapper fishery for all of us to enjoy