This past September, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) reversed its recent trend of keeping the Atlantic Red Snapper fishery closed to recreational harvest by recommending a short recreational season later this fall. The council also recommended a short season for next summer.
In both the Gulf and Atlantic, red snapper has become one of the most contentious fisheries. Many recreational anglers who experience this fishery (as bycatch) have testified to the council that the population has exploded over the past few years and is extremely healthy. However, due to the current stock assessment models and a lack of adequate data on recreational interactions with the fishery (again, as bycatch), managers have chosen a very conservative approach so they don't accidentally allow a harvest that could jeopardize the recovery of the fishery.
No one disputes that the fishery is recovering, and that is a good thing. Just how complete the recovery is, and how the fish should be managed for harvest (if at all) have been the points of dispute.
As has been the case with Florida fisheries in the past, the Snook and Gamefish Foundation (SGF) advocates that science should dictate the best management of our fisheries. Further, we maintain that fishery managers are obligated to arm themselves with the best available science, and that it is the job of fishery managers to make decisions that are in the best interest of the fisheries while allowing the maximum recreational angler access.
SGF trusts that council staff are performing their jobs to their best ability. Further, we are extremely pleased to be working with the Council to help collect voluntarily reported data from recreational anglers before, during, and after the proposed seasons.
Based on our experiences working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), SGF recognizes the value and limitations of self-reported angler data. Thanks to studies completed by the University of Florida, we now know that when enough anglers accurately report their fishing trip data, our iAngler/Angler Action Program (AAP) data compares very favorably to the federal data collection system, MRIP (Marine Recreational Information Program) in the areas of catch rates and reported sizes of fish. The AAP also has proven to be a superior source of information about the size and location of fish anglers let go in Florida, referred to as 'discards' by fishery managers. In fact, AAP data has been used in five different stock assessments in those data categories.