Management of the Oceans
“SnapperGate” – Ridiculousness in Red Snapper Management
by Fred Garth, Editor, Guy Harvey Magazine
Most experts agree that red snapper are abundant in the Gulf of Mexico. And the good news is, their numbers are growing. So, why is the government shortening the fishing season for snapper every year? It’s the result of complicated government regulations, inadequate fish reporting and, oddly, because snapper are growing larger.
If logic were the driving force, then a fishing season would get longer as the fish population grew. Not in this case. As red snapper have grown more abundant in the gulf, the number of days anglers are allowed to fish has been reduced. In 2012, the snapper season was 40 days. That dropped to 30 days in 2013 and the proposed season for 2104 is only 11 days, the shortest season in history. Fishermen are both angry and confused because they see a vibrant gulf full of red snapper yet their days allowed on the water keep getting cut. The “bag limit” is not the issue. For several years, there’s been a two fish, per person, per day quota that fishermen follow strictly or face the possibility of stiff fines. The real problem is another law that the vast majority of anglers are completely unaware of – the total poundage limit.
Most weekend anglers have no idea that the federal government attempts to monitor and then regulate the total weight of snapper caught each year. Fishermen do as they’re told and abide by the two fish per person rule. Even then, there’s still a high probability that anglers will exceed the annual overall poundage rule, mostly because snapper keep getting bigger. In the early 2000s the average weight of a snapper was about 4 pounds. That was up to about 7.5 pounds in 2013 and expected to exceed 8 pounds in 2014. To exacerbate the issue, anglers generally keep the big fish and toss the little guys back. If they can only keep two fish, they might as well keep the biggest two, right?
The overall pounds law is a necessary part of the equation because it takes into consideration the combined totals of recreational catches and commercial harvests – fish that end up in restaurants and seafood markets. In 2008 and 2009, the total allowable pounds of snapper from the Gulf of Mexico was five million. In 2013 that had been increased to 11 million pounds. Of that, recreational fishermen can catch 49% and commercial fisherman get 51% or approximately 5.5 million pounds each. Even with those increases, recreational anglers have unknowingly exceeded their quota for each of the past several years.
Having more fish and bigger fish is great news, but it has ended up punishing fishermen because the overall weight limit hasn’t kept pace with the rapid growth of the individual fish being caught. Ten years ago it was rare to catch a 15 to 20 pound snapper. Now it’s commonplace. If the poundage limits were raised to 15 or 20 million, all of the hullabaloo would dissipate and fishing seasons could be extended. But that seemingly simple solution is bogged down by government bureaucracy in a matrix of complex formulas and algorithms that integrate projected egg production, spawning rates and a host of other criteria that regulators use to help set limits.
Another catalyst for the 11-day season was a lawsuit filed in early 2014 by a group of commercial fishermen. The suit pointed out that the recreational fishing segment had exceeded their 49% for several consecutive years. The data supported the commercial fishermen’s claims and, therefore, regulators clamped down on weekend anglers and charter boats. When the announcement was made, the entire Gulf Coast fishing economy braced for hurricane-like devastation. The charter boat fleet is in danger of losing more business than ever. Marinas, tackle shops, gas pumps, restaurants, hotels – they all stand to suffer. And local governments that survive on tourism and sales taxes are sweating.
If snapper were endangered, the short season would make sense. But the fact that they’re almost too many snapper (some fishermen say they can’t catch anything else), makes an 11 days season very hard to swallow. This is why some states have gone rogue and bucked the system. Alabama and Mississippi are the only Gulf Coast states that have followed federal laws while Texas, Florida and Louisiana have created their own more lenient seasons.
State politicians are now voicing their opinions, recreational fishing groups are fighting back and there’s a growing contingent that wants the states to set their own fishing seasons without interference from the federal government. As the snapper population continues to grow stronger so does the fight over how many of the delicious fish we can catch.
Figuring out how many red snapper live in the gulf is complicated. Government agencies use various hands-on methods such as surveying fishermen when they return to the dock. They also use scientific data such as trying to predict how many eggs the fish will produce and how many will grow to maturity. It’s an inexact science to say the least. One item that is not used in overall fish stock assessments is the fish that live on artificial reefs. Even though these man-made structures are the primary reason snapper are so prolific in the gulf, current laws don’t allow those millions of fish to be included in fish surveys. Only snapper living on natural bottom can be counted, which ignores the majority of the population. This skews overall estimates on how many fish can be harvested while still maintaining a sustainable fishery. There are oddities everywhere in government and predicting fish populations is among the strangest.
GHM Spring Issue – Get Educated!
by Fred Garth
Sports Illustrated has their Swimsuit Issue, Fortune Magazine has their Fortune 500 and now, Guy Harvey Magazine has The Education Issue. Marine scientist, Dr. Guy Harvey, who is famous for his stunning marine artwork, has a strong passion for teaching kids about the oceans. So he created GHM’s Education Issue and sent copies to every school in the state of Florida – from elementary schools to colleges.
“I began my career as a college professor,” Dr. Harvey said, “so my interest in educating our youth about the marine environment and the importance of conservation is a deep passion of mine.”
The spring issue of the magazine, which is also available on newsstands beginning in April, includes inspirational articles about young students doing research work in the classroom and in the field. There’s an eight-page article outlining marine-oriented travel opportunities and summer camps for students from the SEA Lab in Redondo Beach, California to Marineland in St. Augustine, Florida.
Also included in Guy Harvey’s Education issue is a 16 x 20 inch poster called Sharks of the World featuring illustrations by Dr. Harvey of 19 of the ocean’s most important shark species. One of Harvey’s major conservation efforts has been to stop the decimation of the planet’s shark population. It’s estimated that some 70 million sharks are butchered each year to supply the Asian shark fin soup market.
For the past decade, Dr. Harvey and his expedition team has been tagging sharks all over the world with satellite tags that track their movements and gather information about their migration patterns.
“In order to save sharks, we have to know as much about them as possible,” Harvey said. “These are an apex predators that have survived for millions of years. Now their greatest threat is man.”
To Learn More about the Oceans around You Visit: Guy Havery Magazine
The inaugural edition of the Education Issue is already receiving high praise from members of the educational and marine communities. To learn more, go to www.guyharveymagazine.com