Playing Now: “Return of the Vanished Red Snappers”

That could be the title of our federal fisheries managers’ first science fiction production.

Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his tophat, the NOAA Fisheries Service has discovered some four million pounds of Gulf red snapper that seem to have appeared out of nowhere.

Suddenly, the supposed overfishing which curtailed red snapper fishing trips is ended, according to a new assessment update hurriedly conducted in the face of huge protests (and U.S. Senator Richard Shelby’s showing of outrage).

“Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Recovering,” proclaims a Dec. 11 Fisheries Service news release. “Science-based management has helped end overfishing…”

The release goes on to say that “when fishermen follow management measures based on science, they lead to rebuilding of fish populations…”

What’s not addressed is the possibility (we’d say certainty) that federal researchers had underestimated the status of Gulf red snapper stocks all along.

The update bumps up the recommended allowable catch by 40 percent, though methinks the actual reason for the change is more due to public pressure than real science. Red snapper stocks have hardly had time to grow that much since draconian changes of two years ago cut recreational fishing down to four months, and now just 65 days.

At any rate, the new review should be good news, whatever the murky research background. Still, it’s not known when and if the red snapper limits will be loosened a bit. Virtually everyone close to the water knows that red snapper on the ground (or in the water, that is) have skyrocketed. Anglers even catch them trolling, which is not exactly the classic way to do red snapper business.

“Anyway, we seem to slowly and painfully be moving away from the precipice,” said a key Gulf player, “unlike on the Atlantic side.”

The same dubious “overfishing” claim that plagued Gulf research still dominates management in the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council. Confronting it is requiring the same level of protests and new research to get fresh approaches on the Atlantic side, though, sadly, change will come only after thousands of persons suffer needless closure damages.

As talk on both coasts continues in 2010, it’s critical that anglers sound off and attend coming meetings, as covered in Florida Sportsman and its Web site.

Let’s bring on reality. Drop the science fiction.

–Florida Sportsman