Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Red snapper rebuilding begins

Finally, after decades of overfishing, red snapper are on the road to recovery in the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued long awaited management measures to help restore depleted red snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico. These measures known as the ‘interim rule’ address two critical issues that have driven red snapper populations to dangerously low levels, overfishing and bycatch.

The interim rule sets responsible catch levels that will help reduce overfishing, reduces bycatch by up to 60 percent in the commercial fishery and locks in the bycatch reduction gains of 50 percent realized over the past two years from the reduced shrimping effort. The reduced shrimping effort is a result of recent active hurricane seasons and poor economic conditions in the fishery.

“We applaud the actions by the Fisheries Service to begin the process of truly ending the overfishing of red snapper and restoring this signature fish back to healthy levels,” said Chris Dorsett, Gulf of Mexico Fish Conservation Director with The Ocean Conservancy. “This interim rule is a major step in complying with a federal court ruling earlier this month finding the current red snapper rebuilding plan illegal and requiring federal regulators to produce an effective rebuilding plan by December 2007.”

Red snapper has been managed by state and federal regulators in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1980s. Red snapper was first identified by scientists as severely overfished in 1989, yet for almost two decades, federal managers failed to set catch levels based on the advice of its scientists and consistently allowed too many fish to be caught and killed as bycatch. As a result, the latest health assessment of red snapper conducted in 2005 showed the spawning population is now under three percent of its historic abundance.

Based on this assessment, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, an advisory body to the National Marine Fisheries Service was tasked with adopting a new rebuilding plan for the 2007 fishing season. The Gulf Council ultimately failed to produce this plan. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the lead federal agency, was therefore forced by law to step in with this interim rule to save red snapper. “We are now looking to the Gulf Council to uphold its stewardship responsibility by crafting permanent management measures to restore red snapper back to healthy levels capable of supporting catch levels almost three times higher than current levels.”

The interim rule is effective for the 2007 fishing season, the Gulf Council is responsible for developing the management plan for the 2008 fishing season and beyond.

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