May 16, 2011
By Karl Wickstrom
Critics of the
total closure of all Atlantic red snapper fishing are desperately hoping that an upcoming reassessment will cause a re-opening of the popular fishery.
But don't count on it.
Some observers say that the same flawed data and conclusions that led to the current closure (Sedar 15) are being integrated into the new look (Sedar 24).
One veteran scientist minced no words:“It's apparent to me that Sedar is in a CYA (cover your something) mode. It is going to be hard going since they have seemingly decided to continue to defend the mess they produced rather than seek a face-saving way forward.”
Said another expert scientist:“I don't think they made any attempt to correlate size with depth—a serious flaw that any biologist worth his/her salt should be aware of.”
Both observers, speaking informally for now, refer to the National Marine Fisheries Service's claim that larger red snapper are “practically non-existent” nowadays and the species is severely overfished.
Work on the new assessment is under way through the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Unfortunately, the previous basic data is accepted for modeling purposes.
That means using size data mainly from headboat catches in about 100 feet to estimate sizes in 250 feet. In reality, fish sampled from the deeper water average roughly twice as large.
Using the NMFS methods, we might estimate the size of deer in the Southeast by going to Big Pine Key and measuring those diminutive key deer. Conclusion: Big deer in the Southeast are practically non-existent.
A friend suggested we could also estimate average human size by going to a land of small people.
But if you think
I may rant unfairly (always a possibility) read the government's assessment at SAFMC.gov and dive into the fray. A dishearteningly few anglers are involved in the process.
One person, though, who is intimately knowledgeable and active is Capt. Dave Nelson. His family has fished red snapper in northeast Florida for some seven decades.
Based on research including info from 65 others with some 2,000 years of experience, Nelson has put together “A Fisherman's Perspective” that should be required reading for anyone interested in red snapper.
His words ring true, with accounts, for instance, of old days when bars of soap were dragged on the bottom to check for rock or sand, or later introductions of sonar equipment, and on to now-banned longline gear. (Some big sow red snappers would float gear up to the surface.)
Nelson makes a convincing case that red snapper stocks are in extremely good shape, especially since tighter limits were implemented in 1992.
We may differ with him on some commercial allocation views, but we think he's right on the mark regarding today's high red snapper abundance.
At any rate, the assessment talks will continue over coming months and I hope you'll help set the course for good science and fair management.