Despite higher quota, red snapper fishery still troubled
Buyers of South Atlantic red snapper are pleased that the 2014 red snapper catch limit is more than last season, but the recognize the fishery has other problems to work out.
NOAA Fisheries raised the catch limit from around 21,447 gutted pounds combined for commercial and recreational in 2013 to 50,994 pounds gutted weight for the commercial fishery, which opens 14 July. The daily trip limit for boats is 75 pounds gutted weight, and the season ends when the annual catch limit is projected to be met.
In past years, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has closed the red snapper fishery entirely, citing stock assessment data that the fishery has long disputed. “I don’t think they have had the science to close it, and they put a number of people out of business,” Steve Gyland, owner of Cod and Capers Seafood Market and Restaurant in West Palm Beach, Fla., told SeafoodSource.
“We are always hoping to get higher catch limits, but it is not a long-term solution,” Jack Cox, owner of Crystal Coast Fisheries in Morehead City, N.C., and a board member of Seafood Harvesters of America, told SeafoodSource. In addition to flawed data leading to closures, red snapper’s derby fishery style needs to change, Cox and others say. Fishermen catch other species on their snapper trips, but are not allowed to keep them.
“The problem is that it’s a derby fishery, which makes us go out and target the species. It would do the fishery a benefit if we could have so many fish to catch [throughout the season],” Cox said.
“It’s better than what it was last year, but some guys will go out and some won’t. To go out 15 to 30 miles to catch 20 to 30 pounds of fish, it is not real profitable,” Gyland said.
Plus, South Atlantic red snapper prices likely won’t hit much higher than USD 5 (EUR 3.68) a pound to the boat, Gyland estimates. That is because there is plentiful supply of Gulf of Mexico red snapper and Caribbean red snapper.
“If anything is going to drop prices, it’s a derby fishery, and they can’t afford a drop in price,” Harlon Pearce, owner of Harlon’s LA Fish and a board member of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and the Gulf Seafood Institute, told SeafoodSource. “We need to have more controls than that. They have to be able to fish how and when they want."
Meanwhile, in the hopes of basing catch limits and quotas on more scientific data, the Southeast Fishery Science Center is conducting stock assessments on red snapper and triggerfish that will take about a year. “We are keeping our fingers crossed that the assessment gets better…and will hopefully be better in 2016,” Cox said.
“Hopefully, year after year, we will be able to increase it to where we will have a reliable red snapper fishery on the East Coast. It is a shame to go to St. Augustine, Port Orange, and other cities and just see the boats tied up there,” Gyland said.