U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) today sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administer Dr. Jane Lubchenco, expressing his concern about the adverse impact overly strict federal regulation of red snapper has on Alabama’s recreational and charter fisherman, its fishing industry, and coastal communities.
“Alabama’s fishing industry represents hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact for the state each year,” said Shelby. “However, due to overly stringent federal regulations, Alabama fishermen have suffered severe reductions in their red snapper catch for a number of years – at a time when fishermen are encountering record numbers of, and increasingly large, red snapper. The apparent disconnect between these increasingly restrictive management actions and fishermen’s observations is troubling. During these tough economic times it appears imprudent to tighten restrictions on Alabama fishermen if the resource is as healthy as many contend.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of NOAA, plays a central role in regulating our nation’s marine resources and their habitat. Due to perceived overfishing of reef fish, particularly red snapper, NMFS made significant changes to its reef fish regulations, including lower fishing limits and a shorter fishing season. However, recent studies have indicated that the red snapper stock is healthy and that overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico has ended, thus potentially invalidating the need for strict red snapper regulations.
The text of the letter is below.
December 7, 2009
Dr. Jane Lubchenco
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Dr. Lubchenco,
The red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico provides valuable recreational opportunities to Alabama residents and tourists, as well as enormous contributions to the economy. I am deeply concerned about the adverse economic impact of the Nation Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) strict red snapper regulation on Alabama’s recreational and charter fishermen, ancillary industries, and coastal communities.
NMFS has closed the recreational red snapper fishery early each year since implementing the reduced 4 month fishing season in January 2008. I also understand that the agency believes even shorter seasons may be warranted in the future. These early closures are occurring at a time when fishermen are encountering record numbers of, and increasingly large, red snapper. The apparent disconnect between these increasingly restrictive management actions and fishermen’s observations is troubling. During these tough economic times it appears imprudent to tighten restrictions on Alabama fishermen if the resource is as healthy as many contend.
Therefore, it is critical that updated information on the stock be analyzed and incorporated in NMFS management. To that end, I understand that a stock assessment update for red snapper is being prepared and will be released soon. I am pleased the University of South Alabama’s Dr. Sean Powers is chairing the 2009 Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Stock Assessment Update Panel, and I intend to closely review the resulting report to ensure the concerns of my constituents have been adequately addressed. However, it is evident to me that a key recommendation of the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR) 7 (2005) report—that of expanding the fishery-independent surveys for adult red snapper—has not been met. The existing surveys appear to have covered only a fraction of the historical range of red snapper and therefore are unlikely to fully reflect the extent to which this resource has been rebuilt.
I understand the next Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting will take place in February 2010 in Mobile, Alabama. I request that NMFS meet with my office prior to that Council meeting to discuss the key findings and conclusions of the assessment update panel. Additionally, I request that NMFS make a concerted effort to respond to my constituents’ concerns and questions about the assessment update at the February Council meeting.
I want to ensure that the Council and NMFS act fairly, adequately, and swiftly to address any findings indicating that current regulations are overly restrictive. I understand NMFS is required to end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks. But Alabama fishermen have suffered severe cutbacks in their catches for a number of years. If the science shows the stock is as healthy as it seems to be, it is time for fishermen to benefit from their sacrifices.
I appreciate your assistance in ensuring red snapper data and assessments are adequate to support more responsive management in future years, and I look forward to working with you to improve the quality of science in the Gulf of Mexico.