Holly Binns, a project manager at the Pew Environment Group, issued the following statement today in response to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's vote to eliminate the closed ocean area to bottom fishing as part of the red snapper recovery plan. A moratorium on red snapper fishing remains in effect from North Carolina to Florida at least until scientists update information about the species in 2013.
“Overall, we are cautiously optimistic that this recovery plan will get the job done. We will have to wait and see whether this compromise plan is strong enough to help the species rebound.
Scientists and council members considered fishermen's testimony and the new study's findings, and the bottom line remains largely the same. This species still is in urgent need of protection.
We hope the council's well-intentioned effort to ease short-term economic costs does not hurt red snapper in the long run. The species reached this condition in the first place because unsustainable fishing was allowed to continue for decades.
Hopefully this plan will result in enough red snapper for a healthy ocean ecosystem, robust fishing and a bountiful supply of seafood for years to come.”
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is meeting this week in New Bern, North Carolina, to consider a new 2010 red snapper study and determine whether changes were needed to the species' recovery plan.
The recovery plan includes a moratorium on South Atlantic red snapper fishing from North Carolina to Florida, which has been in effect since Jan. 4, 2010. Added to the plan this summer was a 4,827-square-mile closed ocean area off south Georgia and north Florida to protect red snapper caught accidentally when fishermen target other species. The closed area had not yet taken effect and last week, federal regulators delayed the start date of the closed area so the fishery council could consider the new study's findings.
On Thursday, the council voted unanimously to eliminate the closed area. The new study showed that red snapper are in somewhat better condition than first thought. One major finding showed fewer red snapper are being caught accidentally when fishermen target other species, particularly since red snapper fishing was halted in January. Fishermen report avoiding areas where red snapper are known to congregate as they try to comply with the moratorium. The closed ocean area was designed to reduce the accidental catch of red snapper when fishermen target other species. But council members determined it may no longer be needed because new data indicates it is likely that fewer red snapper are dying when caught and released by fishermen targeting other species.
For more highlights of the new red snapper study and what these results mean see our fact sheet.
Scientifically based recovery plans are a proven way to restore fish populations and bountiful fishing. A plan for red snapper already is yielding results in the Gulf of Mexico. After decades of severe overfishing, Gulf fishery managers in 2007 at long last set strict limits on numbers of red snapper caught annually. A 2009 report shows the measures are working. Red snapper are more plentiful and spreading over a wider area in the Gulf. Although full recovery may take until 2032, fishery managers raised allowable catch for 2010, and future increases are likely if the fish continue to rebound.
Similarly, although total recovery for red snapper in the South Atlantic could take up to 35 years, controlled red snapper fishing is expected to resume much sooner as the species shows signs of rebounding.