May 16, 2011
It shouldn't take a college professor to show that the government's research about red snapper is pure junk.
But, by golly, we've got not one but two college professors who see the so-called science for what it is. Wrong. At our request, Dr. Ray Waldner and Dr. Tom Chesnes waded through the daunting mounds of data that the National Marine Fisheries Service used to claim that Atlantic red snapper stocks are so depleted that long-term fishing closures are necessary.
The professors found one flaw after another. Their reports are featured in this month's On the Conservation Front. We all owe Dr. Waldner and Dr. Chesnes a huge thanks.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and inestimable losses in quality of life factors are jeopardized by this beyond-silly work.
As anyone on the water knows, red snapper are thick, and growing in numbers
The NMFS/Council inflated its estimated population for early years (1945-83), when there were virtually no records, and deflated numbers fo modern days.
With mind-numbing formulae they concluded that larger red snapper are “practically non-existent.” Researchers meant well but fell far off course.
In truth, big snapper are so existent that fishermen conducted a test for the government last summer to prove it. More than 5 per cent of the catch were fish over age 10. If that percentage were applied to the government's estimated stock size, the number of big fish is many times larger than the assessment's claimed totals, on which the drastic closures are based.
An additional indicator of robust red snapper stocks is the government's own Catch per Unit of Effort (CPUE) data, explained by Dr. Chesnes.
A well-disciplined CPUE study, with adequate samplings, is just about the best way possible to estimate stock trends in these vast oceans, where fish can't be counted with a handy calculator.
Of course, an agenda-driven researcher can play with models to bend results. I well remember a CPUE study about mullet netting years ago. A scientist claimed it showed the rate of catches holding up nicely over the years.
What he failed to report, cleverly, was that he had left out the search time between gillnet sets. So all he showed was that once a school was located the catch was similar.
Today's red snapper research has some of this same cherry-picking of whatever numbers seem to help the overfishing claim.
But there aren't enough cherries to sell this assessment.
Deep six it. Do it right.