The Red Snapper Debacle, Feds, and Fisheries Management

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red snapper fishing

Red snapper regulations were the straw that broke the camel's back.

If you want to make your hair turn prematurely gray, raise your blood pressure, and go on an epic-level rant, just try to comprehend red snapper management. Then, try to understand virtually any fisheries management. It’s tough – very tough – to understand what they’re doing, and why. The first thing we need to point out is that the vast majority of the people working on fisheries management are good people, doing the best they can. It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame, but it’s MUCH harder to divvy up a valuable resource among various “stakeholders” in a way that makes sense. It’s downright impossible to please everyone, while doing it. So if we can dispense with the name-calling, blame-laying, and vitriol right out of the gate, the entire conversation can be much more productive. Which leads us to one example of why this lofty goal is so difficult: red snapper.

red snapper fishing

Red snapper regulations were the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Everyone’s surely familiar with the red snapper debacle, which started off as a whopping-big three day season. Three measly days. This, when anglers out on the water knew darn well that there were gobs of snapper around. On the face of it the three-day season was utterly absurd. When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross extended the season to 42 days, however, it was just as absurd – because it was illegal, clearly in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens act.

Hear me now, people: I am NOT saying I wish the season hadn’t been extended to 42 days. I’m just saying that we all claim to be living in a country of laws, and it’s ridiculous to cheer an action of the government that is clearly against the law, merely because it benefits us. I do believe that’s an excellent example of hypocrisy, of which there is already more than enough to go around in the government.

I’ve spoken with a couple of people (you can still call them that, even though they live and work in Washington) who are hip-deep in federal fisheries management, and they’ve told me that the root of the problem is almost always poor science. So let’s push for better science, by all means. But in the meantime, let’s also recognize that a) whoever thought a three-day season was acceptable made a radically bad decision, and b) that bad decision was “fixed” in the worst possible way.


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