Home Conservation Front

We Can Do Better Than This

Tom HiltonTom Hilton Posts: 1,595 Captain
Here's a common sense proposal put forth by Dr. Bob Shipp.


Just goes to show that EDF's Ocean's Team was apparently very effective in "crafting and passing" the changes to the Magnuson in 2006 that have brought us to this manufactured "crisis" designed to force us into Catch Shares when they aren't needed (and certainly not wanted).

I'm glad to see Dr. Shipp take many of my suggestions made to the Gulf Council on June 17th of this year - at least someone is listening. (A partial transcript of my letter to the Council listing many of these same solutions that Dr. Shipp has proferred is contained at the bottom of this thread). I wonder if the commercial red snapper fishery would be prohibited from fishing beyond 25 fathoms as well?


Prominent Fisheries Biologist: “We Can Do Better” Managing Red Snapper
by Doug Olander

"Bob Shipp is a man in the middle. He’s part of a system (the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council) which has made rulings he has often disagreed with, increasingly so when it comes to one of the most contentious fisheries in the world: Gulf red snapper.

Bob is not one of those scientists who insist that red snapper population are suffering in the Gulf. In fact, he has written scientific papers showing that the dramatically increased “reef” structure in the form of oil rigs and platforms help account for what any angler or diver who ventures onto/into the Gulf knows: Snapper are thicker than fleas on the junkyard dog.

Bob e-mailed me a document he’s written that I felt is well worth sharing. As much as I’d love to once again have a year-long open season throughout the Gulf with a generous bag limit, I think we all know that’s unlikely. What Bob proposes here is not that, but it’s so much better than what we have now, I think most anglers would give his plan a resounding thumbs up. I just hope lawmakers might have enough sense to do the same. See what you think.-- Doug

The recent turmoil over Gulf red snapper landings has cast a pall over stock assessments for this species. Folks on the water know that the population is healthier than it’s ever been, and hopefully the new methodologies used in counting the catch will confirm this.

But where does that leave us? I think we need to use some very simple but tried and true methods to manage this stock. First a little history. During the nineties we had a seven fish bag limit for red snapper, and a year round season. Then in the early part of this century we went to a four fish bag limit and an April to October season. During both of those periods the snapper stocks were improving rapidly. More recently the bag limit was reduced to two fish, and the seasons progressively shortened. And the stocks continued to expand.

Now we have organized chaos. We have a very healthy stock and a near non existent season. We have rancor between stakeholders and tremendous uncertainty about the future management of this species.

We can look back on history and select a very conservative but reasonable management regime. I propose a straw man to begin the discussion. I propose a six month season (April 15- to October 15?) with a two (or three) fish bag limit. This is far more restrictive than those earlier periods when the stocks were expanding. But to make it even safer, I propose that harvest be restricted to twenty (or twenty-five) fathoms or less. Red snappers range to one hundred fathom depths, so this would provide an additional safeguard to the stocks.

We would monitor the harvest by fishery independent sampling and angler catch data (catch per unit effort). This system would stay in effect for three (or five) years, after which the restrictions could be adjusted if the monitoring data supported it.

What would this do? Well, it would end the conflict between the various sectors. There would be no need for sector separation (for-hire sector and private recreational), no need for pilot programs involving head boats and charter boats. It would enhance safety by eliminating the frantic derby fishery which results in bad weather fishing. In addition, states would likely remain compliant, and there would be no need for the complications of regional management.

The environmental groups would have a guarantee that the stocks are protected, with the creation of a virtual “marine protected area” for this species in depths greater than twenty (or twenty-five) fathoms. It would significantly reduce bycatch and release mortality with the longer season and twenty or twenty-five fathom restriction. The commercial sector would continue with their IFQ program, and this system would remove the onerous issue of reallocation, thus relieving the commercial sector of concerns of future reductions. Nor would the commercial sector have concerns about state takeover of red snapper management.

There would be no motivation for the inter-sector trading of shares which has generated so much ill will among stakeholders.

But perhaps most important it would bring stability to the fishery, allowing individuals and organizations to plan ahead. The socio-economic benefits would be immense.
How would this happen? First, Congress would have to exempt Gulf red snapper from the Magnuson Act. Then the Commerce Department would direct NOAA and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to develop a plan along the lines of the straw man described above. This would need to be in place by the at the earliest possible season.
I’m not so naïve to think this is likely to suddenly happen. But we continue to hear the cry to “think outside the box.” We need to. As one environmental leader was quoted recently “red snapper management stinks.” Come on folks, we can do better than this."

Copied from my letter to the Gulf Council on June 17, 2013;

"....I like the idea of setting up a 3 year period of stability by averaging the quota to be 12 mp for 2014, 2015, and 2016. I also like the idea of giving 100% of the increase in quota to the recreational sector for the next 3 years since the recreational fishermen and related businesses (including for-hire vessels) have taken a big hit since 2006 while the commercial sector has been given unfettered 365 day access each year.

If we keep the commercial allocation at 4.3153 mp and increase the recreational allocation to 7.685 mp for the next 3 years, this could provide justification for also re-implementing our April 21st to October 31st red snapper season for the next 3 years. After the 3 years, the Council can review the results of this program and revise or keep it the same.

THAT would bring stability to the fishery, allowing charter captains to book their trips years in advance instead of waiting to see, as we are right now, what our season will be THIS season. That is no way to manage a fishery, run a business, or plan for your vacation.

We fished for years under the April 21 to October 31 season, 4 fish limit, 4.4688 mp recreational TAC, and the fishery was rebounding. Reinstate the same season but keep the daily bag limit at 2 fish, and this 7.685 mp recreational TAC will more than make up for any perceived increase in fish weight/catch rates. In addition, new accountability measures such as Louisiana's landing permit or the OFS Permit Plan could be implemented across the Gulf in this 3 year time frame to give us better effort/landings data.

It's time to reinstate our 194 day season - if that is done, then all of this supposed need for recreational IFQs, Fish Tags, Days At Sea, Regional Angler Management Organizations, etc. evaporates immediately. THIS will work!"

Capt. Thomas J. Hilton


Sign In or Register to comment.
Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

Preview This Month's Issue

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Florida Sportsman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Florida Sportsman stories delivered right to your inbox.


Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Florida Sportsman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now