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RE: Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico
Dear Honorable [Senator/Congressman]
As you may know the American Red Snapper has been a species of great debate and contention for recreational and commercial anglers in the Gulf of Mexico and the Southeastern Atlantic coastline.
Since 2000 recreational anglers have watched as the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) has attempted to manage this fishery from what they have deemed an overfished condition. In 2000 recreational anglers enjoyed a 4 fish daily bag limit for red snapper and an April 15th to October 31st open season (199 days).
Under the Magnuson/Stevens Act (MSA) NMFS implemented a 10 year rebuilding plan, a plan that has been modified no less than 8 times in the last 10 years, to the current 2 fish per day bag limit, and increase in minimum size and a 48 day season form June 1st to July 18th, which NMFS is threatening to shorten even further next year.
Recreational angling is all about the opportunity to fish. We begin each trip with great hopes of catching the big one, there is no fish house boss waiting for our return to scold us if we come home light or empty. Each time that opportunity is reduced for the recreational angler it sends shock waves through the recreational community. These shock waves can be seen on the water, at the boat dock, and in our tackle stores.
In Florida alone (the Sport Fishing Capital of the World) recreational fishing accounts for in excess of $10 billion in economic activity and nearly 100,000 jobs. From the shrimper and bait suppliers, to the boat dealers all the way through to tackle store owners and restaurant servers and bus boys; the impact that recreation fishing has on the Florida economy is tremendous.
Over the years the recreational anglers as a community have tried and patiently work with the system. We take time out of our busy lives to attend incontinently planned and scheduled public input meeting and workshops only to have our input and anecdotal evidence ignored by NMFS and our fishery management councils. The councils were set up as a conduit between the people and the bureaucrats at NMFS. Instead the councils have become tools for NMFS and not the sounding boards they were designed to be.
A case in point is the Red Snapper fishery. Since 2005 (the year of Katrina) we have steadily watched an explosion of red snapper across the Gulf of Mexico. Red Snapper are now routinely caught in parts of the Gulf where they had not been seen since the early 1980s. Although there is a continuous stream of angler accounts to the contrary, NMFS continues to rely on outdated stock assessments and “Fatally Flawed” recreational catch data to continually reduce the recreational angler’s opportunity to fish. In the 2012 season we are face with an even shorter year than in 2011, although we have been told we did not fish our allocation in 2010, NMFS asserts that we exceeded the 2011 allocation in just 48 days. According to NMFS we removed red snapper form the Gulf at a rate of nearly 12,000 fish per day.
NMFS has changed its mission form one of managing the fishery to managing the fisher. In any management system the allocation of resources and supply levels are the major driving factors. Part of managing supply levels is not only ensuring that existing supplies are not exhausted at too fast a rate, but to ensure that replenishment of those resources is maintained and enhanced.
For decades now; recreational anglers have touted the positive impact of habitat and structure on the reef fish complex and most notably on the red snapper fishery. Dr. Robert Shipp who is a member of the Gulf Council and a research at the University of South Alabama has testified and written extensively about the artificial reef programs in Alabama and its impact on fisheries.
Time and again NMFS has ignored our pleas to expand the artificial reef and structure programs. We have even offered ideas about creating twin complexes one that is fished and one to remain un-fished to measure the difference over time. NMFS’s position and one often touted by Dr. Roy Crabtree is that there is no evidence that these artificial habitats have any appreciable effect on the fishery.
As proof to the contrary I ask you to look at the two pictures below:
[Insert Pictures Here]
What you are looking at is a massive fish kill of American red snapper following a dynamiting operation to remove an oil well from the Gulf of Mexico. See story in link: http://blog.al.com/live/2009/06/snapper_slaughter_explosioncau.html
When I first saw these pictures I was applaud most at the waste of a red snapper fishery that we have been told time and again is near collapse. The fish kill represented here is from a single rig, there are some 1891 rigs throughout the Gulf of Mexico and untold thousands more other structures that also hold red snapper. We are talking literally millions upon millions of red snapper. The sad part of what is represented in the photographs above is twofold.
The first part is that a company received permission and permits to use dynamite in an area that resulted in this massive fish kill, wasting this valuable resource. Consider this; a recreational fishing outing consisting of 4 anglers each hoping to catch their bag limit of red snapper. They purchase fuel, bait, gear, food and drink for the trip for an average of approximately $600 for a day on the water. These pictures represent a loss of opportunity and economy of $600 for every 8 fish you can count; not to mention the future year class of fish that will be impacted by this sudden and massive fish kill. I ask you [Senator/Congressman] can we afford to allow a company to destroy such a valuable fishery in one big bang. Please move to ban the use of dynamite in areas of special habitat in the Gulf of Mexico, where sensitive species live.
The second part of this is that we are bombarded everyday about the negative impact man is having on his environment and more importantly the negative impact of fossil fuels and the exploration of these fuels, yet here is a prime example of nature once again outsmarting use and making constructive use of what man builds. Like the manatee using the warm water runoff of power plants, here is the red snapper calling an oil rig home. Theses manmade monstrosities of steel have become a place of protection and source of food; not just for the red snapper but for thousands of other species as well. Fishing the Gulf oil rigs is legendary and as the pictures show, these oil rigs have become essential habitat in the Gulf of Mexico and as such should be protected under the MSA. I ask you to move to prevent the removal of any other rigs (especially through the use of dynamite) and instead do what NMFS refuses to do and that is to allow these places of special habitat to help to grow our fishery resources.
In conclusion I am asking three things from you today:
1. Stop the use of dynamite to dismantle derelict oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico it is a tremendous waste of our fishery resources.
2. Encourage the oil rig owners to leave the rigs as places of special habitat to help us grow our fishery resources
3. Establish a Marine Fishery Oversight panel to review and monitor the actions and regulations proposed by NMFS, which have such negative impacts on fishing communities and so little positive impact on the fishery.
I thank you for your time and attention to this matter and respectfully request acknowledgement and reply from your office to these request.
Robert W Bryant.