I’m looking forward to our yearly sojourn to the Gulf. Since our last trip I had the good fortune to have my application for the Marine Resources Education Program (MREP) Southeast Fisheries Science Workshop accepted and I was able to attend. These workshops bring fishermen, scientists and mangers together in a neutral setting to learn and talk about ideas outside of the regulatory setting which at times can be tense and adversarial.
I was truly impressed by the methodology and dedication of the Council’s Science Committee and all the Gulf states’ fisheries managers to improve the health and access to the fishery. I first fished for red snapper in 1994/95 and experienced the decline and rebuild of that fishery firsthand. The rebuilding that has taken place would not have been possible without innovative and improved data collection and the dedication from managers at all levels of government. I applaud managers for their work, and it has paid off with increased flexibility and more fishing opportunity for many anglers. We cannot positively affect any system if we can’t measure it. We may not be able to collect all the data on everything that affects the fishery, but we can gather enough to make changes for a positive outcome on the fishery and for those that use it.
This was evidenced just this year with Alabama extending its season while maintaining tight control to stay under its state allocation. This year Alabama’s DNR also rolled out a reef-fish endorsement to improve data collected from anglers fishing offshore. For any industry, better data gives us the ability for maximum throughput. For the fishery, better data will give us maximum sustainable yield and all the benefits resource predictability brings with it.
A great example of increased access to the fishery because of better data collection is the shrinking of the buffer between the annual catch limit (ACL) and annual catch target (ACT) for federal charters in the Gulf, a change recently approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. The Gulf Council also recently voted to expand access to private recreational anglers across the Gulf of Mexico. Despite expanding fishery access, it has not reached everyone.
My problem? The increased fishing access hasn’t reached the first group dropped from access, the Snowbirds. Some think we just drive slowly in the left lane with our blinkers on. In reality we support the local economy for a quarter of the year, we fundraise, we volunteer, and we consider ourselves part time residents of the community. I first fished red snapper in 1994/1995, the last time I was able catch and keep red snapper was 2014/15. During these two years the Gulf Headboat Pilot tested a year-round fishing season coupled with mandatory reporting. The pilot increased access to the fishery, increased economic income to the area, increased data collection, and decreased dead red snapper discards. This was attained while staying under the sustainable limit for the sector, but it still has not been voted into management. I applaud the work done so far to rebuild the fishery and we need to continue to implement new strategies so all groups, Snowbirds included, have access to this resource. The Gulf of Mexico is a national resource. It belongs to all Americans. I believe that we all can enjoy and benefit from it as long as we continue to move forward with proven models for success.