A red snapper recreational “mini-season” in the South Atlantic, running the first two weekends in November, has just concluded. This is the first time in three years that NOAA Fisheries has allowed red snapper to be pursued in the south Atlantic fishery. Commercial fishermen are permitted 75 pounds per day during November and December, out of a total allocation of 124,815 pounds. Recreational fishermen were allowed one fish per day during these first two November weekends.
Duly cautious, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council encouraged fishermen pursuing red snapper to use single hook rigs, move out of areas likely to hold red snapper as they approach their boat’s limits, and use descending devices on fish caught at depth, especially those showing signs of barotrauma. Reducing discard mortality is low-hanging fruit in the quest to maximize recreational opportunities in popular fisheries. Discard mortality for fish caught recreationally can stand near 40% and often accounts for a high fraction of overall removals.
The announcement of this short 2017 season was a surprise to many, and it seems to be part of a broader loosening of restrictions on southeastern fisheries under Wilbur Ross’s Commerce Department. Recreational anglers who have caught red snapper (mostly as bycatch) in the south Atlantic fishery in recent year s have reported that the population has exploded, anecdotally suggesting that limited harvest might be justified.
Yet as with all fisheries management, the future of the South Atlantic red snapper fishery, and access to it, must be based on the best available science, not mere anecdote. Yet perhaps the silver lining in this recreational “mini-season” will prove to have been the opportunity for fishermen and managers to gather more accurate data about the health of the stock. To that end, and in addition to the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has partnered with the Snook and Gamefish Foundation, together with the information technology firm Elemental Methods, to develop an online portal (www.myfishcount.com) where anglers can voluntarily report their catches.
Robust and sustainable access to our marine fisheries depends on prudent management. Prudent management is grounded in good science. Good science is grounded in robust and reliable data sets. And in this case, collecting good data depends upon the willingness of recreational anglers to help collect it. Better data collection is another piece of low-hanging fruit in the quest for longer recreational seasons.
In many respects, for recreational anglers, the future is in our own hands. Cultivating a mindset and the accompanying habits that put our fisheries resources first will ensure that those resources continue to recover, and that they will still be around for future generations of anglers to use and enjoy.