Stephanie Murphy, John Rutherford Want NOAA to Suspend Closing Red Snapper Fishing in South Atlantic

U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and John Rutherford led a congressional letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (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.”

Rutherford’s office offered some of the reasons why he helped organize the letter.

“Over the last 10 years, fishery managers have been successfully working to rebuild the red snapper stock in the South Atlantic. However, as the stock recovers, more fish are being caught and thrown back. Due to a lack of good independent data, South Atlantic red snapper seasons continue to be extremely limited, with only a two-day recreational season this year. To fill the gaps, Congress has appropriated $5.1 million over the last three years to do the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count, which will provide better data on total abundance, genomics, and mortality data,” Rutherford’s office noted.

“As an outdoorsman and proud angler, I understand the importance of strong, sustainable fisheries to our state and local economy,” said Rutherford on Monday. “While the two day season this year was unacceptably short, full closures would destroy the livelihoods of many and decimate our local fishing economy. To make these sweeping management decisions without considering the independent data that is on the way would be irresponsible.”

“Like many Floridians, I’m an avid angler,” said Murphy. “I know how important fishing is to our state’s economy and way of life. Florida has made progress in rebuilding the South Atlantic red snapper stock, and the ongoing Great Red Snapper Count will provide the data to demonstrate this progress. Despite these advancements, the red snapper fishing season is at risk of area closures. I’m urging NOAA to suspend the consideration of area closures until the Great Red Snapper Count’s data is available and considered.”

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., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Byron Donalds, R-Fla., Neal Dunn, 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.

The letter is below.

Dear Administrator Spinrad,

We write today to share our serious concerns and urge you not to consider area closures in the South Atlantic for the red snapper fishery. While it is important to ensure that our fisheries are managed in a sustainable way, area closures would have immense economic implications in our states and we currently lack the independent data to support the decision. Red snapper is a highly sought-after species in the South Atlantic and major economic driver. In 2018 alone, the 6-day recreational season added $13 million to the gross domestic product (GDP) for the region.

Over the last 10 years, fisheries managers have been working to regrow the red snapper stock, and by all accounts, these efforts have been successful. Anyone who has been out on the water recently will tell you that red snapper are plentiful. However, the current methods and data used to determine the health of the stock and ultimately inform management decisions prevent us from having an accurate picture of whether many red snapper are actually in the South Atlantic.

We now find ourselves in a catch 22. We regularly hear from our constituents that red snapper are so abundant they are all people can catch, yet the recreational season this year was only two days. As the stock has grown, and more encounters are happening out of season, more fish are being discarded and ultimately dying because of pressure-related injuries. These discards ultimately count against fishermen, leaving them with short or non-existent seasons, even after complying with all the rules.

Now, on top of a short red snapper season, it is our understanding that there are discussions about broad area or season closures of all bottom fishing to stop red snapper encounters altogether. This decision would be crippling economically for our states that rely heavily on our coastal economy. Area closures would have significant effects on commercial fisherman, for-hire captains, recreational fishermen, and all the businesses that support our robust fishing industry.

Before closures are considered, it is vital that we use the best and most up to date science when making management decisions for the red snapper fishery. To that end, Congress has provided $5.1 million over the last three years for the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count. This study, which began in 2021, will provide independent data on the red snapper population by 2025. To make a decision with such sweeping consequences when we have better data from the Great Red Snapper Count and state surveys on the way, would be irresponsible.

We urge you to suspend all consideration of area closures and other significant management decisions until the Great Red Snapper Count and other independent data is completed and integrated in the stock assessment process.

Kevin Derby
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