03/05/2009 - Good morning, Chairman Harris and South Atlantic Council members. My name is Holly Binns and I am the Manager of the Pew Environment Group’s Ending Overfishing in the Southeast Campaign. Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Our aim is to strengthen environmental policies and practices in ways that produce significant and measurable protection for the natural environment and the rich array of life it supports.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input regarding the proposed interim rule for red snapper. We recognize the important role that you play in managing for sustainable fisheries in the South Atlantic, and offer our support for the interim rule. This is an important step towards ending overfishing and restoring healthy and robust fisheries in the South Atlantic.
We also strongly urge you to continue moving forward with long-term, science-based measures to end overfishing of red snapper and the nine other species undergoing overfishing by the congressionally mandated 2010 deadline.
If I can, I’d like to take you back in time 55 years to 1954, the year of Hurricane Hazel. Red snapper landings were near their zenith at more than a half million pounds, and there were more than 5 million red snapper off our coast. Of these, almost a million were more than 20 years old. These fish would have been more than 3 feet in length and more than 20 pounds. The most common size was 34 inches.
Now back to the present, where the most common size is less than 17 inches and 2 ½ pounds, and the large fish are exceedingly rare. Of the 500,000 red snapper left, there are virtually no fish more than 10 years old. Landings have reached an all-time low of less than 80,000 pounds. Red snapper are estimated to be at less than 3% of their population at maximum sustainable yield, where the financial benefits from the fishery are greatest. To rebuild to a more sustainable fishery, many more large red snapper need to survive through time.
Fortunately, red snapper have had some very strong recent year classes. Fishermen in north Florida are reporting seeing increased numbers of fish in the water. These strong year classes can help to more quickly recover the red snapper fishery to a high level only if they are afforded some protection from fishing pressure.
There are two reasons that we urge the Council to take action today. The first is practical. By the end of June, approximately 63% of charter, 46% of private, and 58% of commercial landings will have crossed the docks in east Florida where most of the red snapper are landed. Delay of a few months may mean little in this room, but on the water, this is effectively the loss of another potentially recuperative year class of fish.
The second reason to act immediately is the message it sends to your constituents. Fishermen, as well as the general public, are relying on this Council to manage a healthy fishery that provides jobs, food, recreation, and income for years to come.
Finally, I urge each of you to ask yourselves a question: If red snapper doesn’t deserve emergency protection, what does? This Council has for years declared its commitment to ending overfishing and is right now faced with the opportunity to make good on this commitment. Will you kick the can down the road and hope for the best, or will you make the hard decision to conserve this important species for future generations?
I hope that you will demonstrate the wisdom and courage to take the necessary yet painful action to put this species on the road to recovery today. Too much hangs in the balance to delay or fail to follow the science.