The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council requested the fisheries service implement this interim rule while the council explores long-term measures to address the critical condition of red snapper.
The most recent scientific assessment shows too many red snapper are being removed from the population too quickly, which indicates a need for protection under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Most of the remaining population consists of smaller, younger fish, who produce fewer eggs than older fish.
In addition to overharvest and discards of red snapper in the directed fishery, bycatch (unintended and unused harvest) of juvenile red snapper by the Gulf shrimp fisheries has contributed to the depletion of Gulf red snapper; managers are working to reduce the bycatch of red snapper in both directed and shrimp fisheries.
NOAA currently estimates the population of red snapper in the South Atlantic to be only about 3% of what it was in the 1950s.“The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires us to manage fish populations so they grow to a size that can sustain the largest average catch possible for the long term,” said Roy Crabtree, southeast regional administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “Unfortunately, the red snapper population has not been able to reach that size; therefore, closing the fishery is the first step toward protecting this species, rebuilding the stock and ensuring fishing for generations to come.”
The council is expected to recommend long-term measures to the fisheries service sometime in mid-2010. NOAA’s Fisheries Service will provide additional public comment periods before implementing final long-term management measures.
Unfortunately, sports fishermen and some industry fishers are protesting the six month ban and regulatory status of red snapper, claiming it will cause them economic hardship. This may partially be the case, but the economic and environmental hardship that would be caused from a wholly depleted red snapper stock would be even more devastating.
SOS! Florida's executive director Judson Parker is encouraging NOAA's Fisheries Service to remain firm on the ban and to use every regulatory tool at their disposal to enforce it.
"Closing the red snapper fishery for a relatively short period of time to let the population rebuild is an important step in ending overfishing and ensuring a vital red snapper population for future generations," Parker said.
For more information on South Atlantic red snapper, visit http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov or http://www.safmc.net/.