By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, March 14, 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that it is funding an independent and external assessment to measure the actual number of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy, Jr. said that this action would not have taken place without the efforts of Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama).
Com. Guy said, “I would like to thank Sen. Shelby for funding important improvements in the Federal red snapper management program and for working with Gulf states, anglers and local businesses that have been hurt by extremely short red snapper seasons even though the red snapper population appears very robust.”
US Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) is the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS). In the fiscal year 2016 CJS Appropriations bill, Senator Shelby included both funding and guidance for an assessment of red snapper Gulf-wide. This evaluation includes an examination of the population of red snapper on reefs and the new technologies available to more accurately count the fish. Results from this independent study will be reportedly be compared to NOAA’s internal estimates and will be used in future Gulf fisheries management decisions. The State of Alabama’s own assessment believes that the federal estimate has been undestimating the number of snapper for years.
Sen. Shelby said in a statement, “Today’s announcement by NOAA is a critical step towards much-needed reform to the way fish are counted in the Gulf of Mexico. These efforts will help ensure that NOAA counts red snapper where they actually live – on reefs.”
Sen. Shelby continued, “I’m pleased that this assessment will provide an independent check on NOAA’s internal counts for red snapper in the Gulf, which is long overdue. My goal has always been, and will continue to be, to get our Gulf fishermen more days out on the water.”
Com. Guy added, “I would also like to acknowledge the leadership of the Marine Resources Division (MRD) for pushing for better stock assessments in the Gulf of Mexico and developing the methods that will be used in this Gulf-wide population estimate.”
According to DCNR, for the past three years, MRD has required representatives from recreational vessels with red snapper on board to report their harvests through the Snapper Check program prior to landing fish in Alabama. Snapper Check shows that Alabama’s red snapper harvest is considerably less than the federal estimate.
MRD Director Chris Blankenship hopes the new assessment will lead to a longer red snapper season. Director Blankenship said, “We want to give fishermen more access and also be able to sustainably manage the red snapper fishery the way that it needs to be managed.”
NOAA acknowledged that there is disagreement on their website. The agency said, “Although red snapper are recovering quickly in the Gulf of Mexico, the recreational fishing season keeps getting shorter. Many fishermen are frustrated with the increasingly restrictive management regime and the lack of cooperation between state and federal governments. NOAA Fisheries recognizes new and innovative solutions are needed to manage the Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper fishery.”
Senator Richard Shelby has served Alabama in the US Senate since 1986. Prior to that he represented the people of Alabama in the US House of Representatives.