Holly Binns, manager of the Pew Environment Group's Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast, issued the following statement today in response to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's final approval of the South Atlantic red snapper recovery plan, Amendment 17A.
"This plan puts South Atlantic red snapper on the right track for recovery, and it is long overdue. This iconic species has been fished at unsustainable rates for decades, and this decisive action is required now to save it.
"A new red snapper population study is still ongoing, and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council could adjust the recovery plan based on the findings at its December meeting in North Carolina. Scientists have listened to fishermen, incorporated their feedback and made several significant changes to the study to address their concerns.
"The good news is that according to initial findings from the current study, additional information supplied by fishermen shows that fewer red snapper may be caught and killed accidentally when other deep-dwelling species are targeted. That finding could mean a smaller ocean area closed to all bottom fishing–a part of the recovery plan designed to protect unintentionally caught red snapper, which often die even after fishermen throw them back.
"The bad news is the overall plight of red snapper does not appear to have changed. The newest information shows that the species remains at critically low population levels and is in urgent need of protection."
Under the plan, the red snapper population could boom in less than 10 years, resulting in more robust fishing than exists today. The amendment, initially approved in June by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, halts red snapper fishing in federal waters from North Carolina to Florida until the critically depleted species begins to rebound. The plan also closes 4,827 square miles of the ocean from Cape Canaveral through south Georgia to bottom fishing, in which red snapper are caught accidentally when fishermen target other species. Although total recovery could take up to 35 years, closed ocean areas could reopen, and controlled red snapper fishing could be allowed much sooner as the species begins to recover. The plan is expected to take effect after the one-year red snapper fishing moratorium expires Dec. 5, 2010.