June 2012

Open it, feds. Just open it.

We’ve now enjoyed (heavy sarcasm intended) more than two years of a completely unwarranted and discredited closure of all Atlantic red snapper fishing.

The absurd closure in the face of abundant and growing red snapper populations has caused many millions of dollars in direct and indirect damages.

Moreover, no dollar amount can be computed for all the recreational public value lost.

The National Marine Fisheries Service padlocked the red snapper fishery on the basis of squirrely science (we can think of no more accurate term at the moment) that regulators claimed showed stocks drastically overfished and depleted.

Regulators refused to budge when a unprecedented public outcry erupted. At least three highly experienced outside scientists and hundreds of veteran fishers questioned the NMFS findings and decision.

Caught with its data down, the feds have at least agreed to conduct and oversee an actual trial study using systematic methods and randomized placements.

Early results, we understand, make a mockery out of the government’s previous claim that large red snappers are “practically non-existent.”

The study will go on for months to come.

It’s basically a CPUE (catch per unit of effort) approach designed to report on comparative catches using like circumstances to the extent possible.

As we’ve sermonized on before, there’s no better way to get a handle on relative fish abundance, provided that the work is done carefully, with adequate samplings.

In the case of Atlantic red snapper, some CPUE data did exist, and showed strong increases in stocks since the 1992 strict limits were enacted. But the data was ignored by the NMFS hierarchy, which claimed that a disastrous “truncation” of red snapper sizes had occurred.

The federal managers, however, produced no solid data showing that average red snapper sizes had deep sixed.

On the contrary, virtually all outside findings and reports indicated that the stock size is robust and as strong as any level in modern times.

Catch results in the new CPUE-type study may well be difficult for federal regulators to swallow, and you can bet the farm that there will be all sorts of rationalizing to follow.

But we do commend the long-overdue use of this scientific approach.

Meanwhile, we think it is imperative that government quell the socio-economic bleeding by re-opening the red snapper fishery on a limited basis pending final CPUE results.

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