(NEWSLETTER - Spring 2019)
American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, and Yamaha Marine Group focus on innovative management approaches
By Spud Woodward
Predictability, more opportunity, flexibility.These words resounded this winter during discussions about snapper and grouper management in federal waters off the South Atlantic coast. A series of five meetings, sponsored by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), Yamaha Marine Group, and Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) in cooperation with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council), were held during December and January in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to give recreational anglers an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas about improving management of species such as red snapper, gag grouper, and black sea bass. Dr. Kari MacLauchlin Buck, formerly a staff social scientist with the Council, facilitated the meetings to ensure invited participants provided candid but focused input about trip satisfaction, regional differences in fishing practices, angler reporting, and barotrauma reduction, and offered their opinions about current snapper grouper management.
“We had a great turnout for the meetings and very engaged and active participation. Red snapper weighed heavily on conversations at the meetings, but fishermen who attended provided excellent discussion and input about management of the entire snapper grouper complex,” Buck explained. “No matter the location, we heard some common messages. Most participants characterized a good trip as being able to catch a lot of fish and keep enough fish to make the money, time and planning the trip worthwhile, with flexibility to take the trip on the best day for the angler. Generally, ‘enough’ fish means at least one trophy fish for the boat (legal to keep), and some other legal-sized fish for everyone to take home to eat.”
The regional meetings resulted from a workshop held during the Council meeting last October in Charleston. At that workshop, ASA and CCA representatives, Council members and staff, and representatives from the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee and its Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel brainstormed for a day to develop a focused list of topics for further discussion with recreational anglers in a small-group setting.
Another common theme heard during the five meetings was the need for managers to better consider regional differences when developing and setting management policy. Participants noted that trips targeting snapper and grouper occur all year, with variation in the peak times across the region, depending on weather and access to popular species. Short, identical seasons set for the South Atlantic region, encompassing areas as diverse as South Florida and the Outer Banks, can create inequities in access and opportunity.
Integral to regional management is the need for better data about catch and effort in the snapper grouper fishery. Many of the participants recognized this and supported additional angler-permitting and reporting requirements as a means to provide better data.
Based on input provided during the regional meetings, members of the Council will begin work on a framework amendment to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to reexamine the seasonal dates for recreational harvest of red snapper. The goal is to ensure that the guidelines used by the National Marine Fisheries Service to set the season dates and days allow adequate flexibility and best serve the interests of anglers and guides throughout the region. Public comments on this topic will be taken at the Council’s June 10-14, 2019, meeting in Stuart, Florida.
"While the sportfishing industry has appreciated the seasons—limited as they have been—for South Atlantic red snapper in recent years, much work remains to be done to improve management and access of this and other snapper grouper species," said Kellie Ralston, the American Sportfishing Association’s Southeast Fisheries Policy Director. "Through this project, we were able to flesh out a variety of promising management and data collection ideas that have the potential to provide more reasonable and predictable fishing regulations."
An overview of the findings and recommendations from the regional meetings was presented by Dr. Buck to the Council during its March 2019 meeting on Jekyll Island. A copy of the final report is available from the Council’s website. The Council’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel was presented the same information during its spring meeting. The Council will continue to seek opportunities to address the concerns and suggestions of anglers as presented at the meetings.
“Yamaha appreciates the hard work of the American Sportfishing Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Their efforts have increased understanding of methods to better manage recreational fishing. We hope this is the beginning of positive, productive dialogue on the Council and among all stakeholders," said Martin Peters, Senior Manager, Yamaha Marine Government Relations.
Spud Woodward is an At-Large member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council from Brunswick, Georgia. He spent 34 years with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, serving as the Director of the Coastal Resources Division prior to retiring in early 2018.