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Disputed Atlantic Red Snapper Closure Rolls On

Judd Lee caught this red snapper while fishing on the party boat Mayport Princess out of Mayport, FL.

As anglers are still locked out of the Atlantic red snapper fishery (except for two token three-day weekends) evidence mounts that the stocks of fish are extremely abundant. Still, the National Marine Fisheries Service keeps its head deep in the sand and dallies on updating its controversial assessments.

Fishing conservationists should continue to bombard officials and politicians with protests against the closure. Unfortunately, many citizens have given up in the face of complex tables and mystifying claims by the NMFS staff.

A solid summary of the situation comes from Dave Nelson, a hands-on veteran fisherman and researcher who has exposed much of the government's controversial claims of red snapper depletion. Nelson summarizes:

"The red snapper science was part of the hysteria surrounding the worldwide panic of overfishing that occurred after the collapse of the cod in the early 1990's and before.

"The major problem is that all of the science in the South Atlantic should be treated differently because all fish species are caught with hook and line or limited traps. This is especially true for red snapper as we know now that the older fish are protected by their own behavior, when they become loners as adults in deeper water. Also, there is no shrimp trawl bycatch of red snapper compared to the Gulf of Mexico.

"In an ideal fishery you protect the youngest fish so that they can spawn at least once before they are targeted and you protect the older fish because they lay the most eggs. The red snapper fishery in the South Atlantic has had both of these conditions since 1992 with the 20 inch size limit and the longline ban. The problem is that enough data was not collected during the important time after these regs were enacted and scientists previously had little knowledge about selectivity and the fishery itself when the science leading to the closure was completed.

" Once these problems due to the lack of data and knowledge about red snapper life history are corrected then we should be back to fishing at 2 per person year-around. Unfortunately the new science is not scheduled until 2014."

So, be patient perhaps while Floridians continue to suffer millions of dollars in socio-economic damges caused by erroneous findings based on outdated and wrong stock assessment numbers.

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