Like it or not, legally caught red snapper in federal South Atlantic waters is going to become a rarer thing indeed.
“The last assessment determined that red snapper is not yet rebuilt,” said Mike Schmidtke, a fishery scientist with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC).
“It’s still; we’re … experiencing overfishing. Most of that overfishing is occurring due to discard mortality. That’s what the Council is trying to address within (Amendment 35), is a response that would update the annual catch limits and acceptable biological catch to correspond to the most recent stock assessment, as well as address the large amount of discard mortality that red snapper experiences.”
Schmidtke spoke at a meeting of the SAFMC Snapper-Grouper Advisory Panel (AP), which picked a bad selection among worse options, per some on the Panel.
The Council decided in September that time-area closures would not be included in the amendment, which had been a worry beforehand. The amendment is also on a fast track, meaning this meeting would be the last time the Advisory Panel could make a recommendation. The Council is expected to take final action on Amendment 35 in March 2023.
“The point that the Council is at, right now, is that there is a legal requirement to respond to a stock assessment because it has an overfishing status associated with it,” Schmidtke said. “So, the Council does need to respond to that assessment, and they’ve talked about doing this in a kind of this short-term, long-term format.”
The amendment — part of the short-term response to address discards — will go up for approval in December for public hearings, and those hearings would likely be in January or February before the March meeting.
Within the amendment, the Council must approve several actions. The first action here deals with new catch limits by year and sector. Panelists chose from five alternatives. In Alternative 2, the acceptable biological catch number drops from 53,000 fish to 28,000. The commercial annual catch limit goes from 124,815 pounds whole weight to 77,016, in one year. The recreational annual catch limit declines from 29,656 fish to 19,119.
If implemented in time, it all but ends any chance of a recreational red snapper season in 2023.
“We have a stock that is exploding, and is in great shape,” said Jimmy Hull, a commercial fisherman from Ormond Beach. “By the way, this AP made a pretty much unanimous motion that the stock is totally rebuilt, in our view.”
The Council should be using a productivity model and not an age-based model, he said.
“So, for all those reasons I would recommend Alternative 2,” Hull said. “That the (acceptable biological catch) equals the (annual catch limit), and I could make a motion now, but I would make that recommendation overall.”
The other alternatives were less palatable, with 95% and 90% of the acceptable biological catch, while Alternative 2 is 100%. Alternative 1, no action, couldn’t be considered because the law demands action. Alternative 5 would’ve shut down South Atlantic red snapper fishing altogether.
Then there’s the concept that it’s all pointless, anyway — one AP member said no one they know, who fishes recreationally, abides by the federal law on red snapper anymore. But at the end of the day, Florida recreational fisher David Moss said, they have to go with the data they have.
Hull called Alternative 2 getting something out of nothing. The vote was 10-0 among panelists.
“I hope that in the minutes from this meeting that it’s reflected how disgusted the AP is with having to choose something like this,” Hull said.