Better science and data, not catch shares

With the exception of three mini-seasons (2012-2014) the red snapper fishery in the South Atlantic has been effectively closed for over six years.

By most accounts from fishermen, red snapper are very plentiful – they are routinely encountered while fishermen target other species and divers report large schools.

Yet, the stock assessment presented to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in June says that red snapper are still overfished and that overfishing is still occurring. This despite a lot of uncertainty about the data used in the assessment.

Give the SAFMC credit for not accepting the assessment and asking its Scientific and Statistical Committee to reexamine the assessment and stock status determination this fall.

The ongoing saga of the red snapper fishery highlights the fact that stock assessments can be flawed because of the lack of good biological and historical abundance information. In other words, much better science and data on our fisheries is needed.

A congressionally mandated study by the National Research Council found that “data from the most recent stock assessments indicate 20 of the 55 stocks analyzed were not actually overfished at the time they were placed in rebuilding plans...”

The study points out that its results cut both ways: while a significant number of stock assessments underestimated stock size, some assessments may overestimate stock size, such that “some stocks classified as healthy” are actually overfished.

Instead of devoting adequate financial resources into stock assessments, NOAA has spent about $160 million over the last six years pushing its National Catch Share Policy in an effort to privatize fisheries. Studies have shown that catch share programs hurt fishing communities by destroying jobs and don’t provide any biological benefit to fisheries.

For our fisheries to be properly managed, there must be a focus on better science and data -- not on catch shares -- which equates to more accurate assessments of whether fish stocks are overfished or not. This is the very heart of successful fisheries management.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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