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John Rutherford Joins Team Researching Red Snapper Population Off Florida’s Coast

Last week, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., joined a research team from the University of Florida (UF), Florida Sea Grant, and the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium to tour reefs off the coast on Northeast Florida to collect data on the South Atlantic red snapper population.

Rutherford toured reefs off the coast of St. Augustine and he weighed in on his experience at the end of last week.

“For too long, a lack of good data has limited South Atlantic red snapper seasons and restricted anglers from accessing the red snapper population off of the First Coast,” said Rutherford. “I am encouraged to see the cutting-edge science and learn about new methods that are being used to create independent assessments of the South Atlantic red snapper population, and I am confident that the data collected by the research team will help us better assess the state of red snapper fisheries and care for this ecosystem, without jeopardizing our state’s fishing industry.”

“This project is advancing the state of science for stock assessments with the help of charter captains and fishermen throughout the South Atlantic,” noted Florida Sea Grant. “Sea Grant is honored to help NOAA Fisheries by supporting programs that foster industry collaboration and integrated science designed to improve fisheries management.”

Rutherford’s office stressed the important role red snapper can play in the South Atlantic.

“Red snapper is a popular commercial and recreational reef fish whose annual harvest levels are dependent on fishery management decisions based on stock assessments. Population estimates suggest that red snapper has been depleted since the 1970s, which has resulted in low harvest levels and short fishing seasons in the South Atlantic,” Rutherford’s office noted. “Starting in Fiscal Year 2020, Representative Rutherford has successfully secured $5.1 million in federal funding for the Great Red Snapper Count, an independent study that will deliver new, reliable data on abundance, genomics, and mortality of the red snapper stock by 2025.

“South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, in partnership with Florida Sea Grant and UF researchers, have used $3.3 million of Great Red Snapper Count grant funding to conduct a 30-month independent study of the red snapper population that will help inform future stock assessments and management of the South Atlantic red snapper,” Rutherford’s office added. “The research team is working to estimate the distribution and population density of red snapper using remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and fin clips across the South Atlantic, including in habitats not currently sampled by federal stock assessments, to produce dependable data that will influence Florida anglers’ access to red snapper fishing.”

In recent years, Rutherford has championed the “Red Snapper Act.”Rutherford first introduced the bill at the end of last year with more than a dozen co-sponsors being led by then U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. The bill “would prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from implementing area closures in the South Atlantic until the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count study is complete and the findings are integrated into the fishery’s stock assessment.” Earlier this month, Rutherford reintroduced the bill.

Rutherford’s office explained why the congressman offered the proposal.

“Recreational fishing in Florida is a major economic driver that produced $9.2 billion in economic output and supported 88,501 jobs in 2020. Over the last 10 years, the South Atlantic fishing community has worked hard to rebuild the red snapper stock. However, due to a lack of good data, seasons remain short and fail to reflect the real number of red snapper in the region. To fix this, Congress appropriated $5.1 million over the last three years to fund the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count, which will deliver reliable data on abundance, genomics, and mortality and improve access to red snapper fishing for anglers,” Rutherford’s office noted. “Earlier this year, NOAA proposed closures for all bottom fishing in the South Atlantic in an effort to decrease the red snapper caught outside of the two-day recreational season. While the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council ultimately rejected NOAA’s proposal, the threat of future closures persists. The Red Snapper Act would prevent NOAA from making future sweeping management decisions until the ongoing South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count is complete.”

Rutherford weighed in on the bill last month.

“Over the last ten years, the South Atlantic fishing community has worked hard to rebuild the red snapper stock, and their efforts have worked! Anglers tell me they see more red snapper off the coast of Northeast Florida than they have ever seen,” said Rutherford. “NOAA may believe the population is overfished, but widespread bottom closures that threaten Florida’s fishing economy are not the answer. My Red Snapper Act stops NOAA from making draconian closures, and instead forces them to use better data to evaluate the red snapper population in the South Atlantic. Florida’s anglers deserve dependable access to red snapper fishing.”

The congressman’s office highlighted how the bill would help the Sunshine State.

“Last year, NOAA proposed closures for bottom fishing in the South Atlantic to decrease the discard rate of red snapper caught outside of the two-day recreational season. While the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council ultimately rejected NOAA’s proposal, the threat of future closures persists. The Red Snapper Act would prevent NOAA from making future sweeping management decisions until the ongoing South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count is complete and the new information can be integrated into stock assessments,” Rutherford’s office noted. “America’s 52.4 million anglers create $148 billion in economic output, support 945,500 jobs, and contribute $1.8 billion toward conservation. Florida alone adds $13.9 billion to our national economy – higher than any other state – through the manufacturing and sale of fishing equipment and gear, hotel lodging, restaurants, charter boat trips. and more. In Florida’s 5th Congressional District, the recreational fishing industry supports nearly 4,500 local jobs.”

Seven members of the House are backing the bill, including Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn and Michael Waltz. The American Sportfishing Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the Center for Sportfishing Policy are also backing the proposal. The bill was sent to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.

Last August, Murphy and Rutherford led a congressional letter to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad, asking him “to suspend further consideration of area closures in the South Atlantic until data from the ongoing South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count can be integrated into management decisions.” Four members of the U.S. Senate signed the letter, including U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rick Scott, R-Fla. More than 20 members of the U.S. House signed the letter, including U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., Kat Cammack, R-Fla., Val Demings, D-Fla., Byron Donalds, R-Fla., Scott Franklin, R-Fla., Al Lawson, D-Fla., Brian Mast, R-Fla., Bill Posey, R-Fla., Maria Elvira Salazar, , R-Fla., Darren Soto, D-Fla., Michael Waltz, R-Fla., and Dan Webster, R-Fla.

In March 2021, the beginning of the Great Red Snapper Count in the South Atlantic, Murphy and Rutherford secured $3.3 million for a 30-month study that will help better understand the true stock of red snapper in the South Atlantic.

Author

  • Kevin Derby

    Originally from Jacksonville, Kevin Derby is a contributing writer for Florida Daily and covers politics across Florida.

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