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Addressing Misunderstandings about Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Recreational Fishery Data

January 26, 2021

When it comes to characterizing the accuracy of the data, the facts matter. Read the new leadership message from Russ Dunn, National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fishing.

Recreational fisherman with red snapper. Recreational fisherman with red snapper.

Recent data and management improvements in the Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper fishery are cause for optimism. New sources of data, such as the Great Red Snapper Count, and longer fishing seasons are providing scientists and managers new insights, and anglers more fishing opportunities. But, the dialogue continues over the management of red snapper and the data used for management.

There are a number of common misperceptions that are adding concern and confusion to the discussion. As the National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries at NOAA, I want to ensure that constituents have the most accurate information about the work we do. We work with our Council partners to ensure that our saltwater fishing resources are managed sustainably. I also want to address some of these misunderstandings.

Addressing Common Misunderstandings

Red Snapper Assessment Model

One issue is the mischaracterization of the 2018 red snapper assessment model as unreliable because the Great Red Snapper Count found more fish than previously estimated. This is not accurate. The Snapper Count was an unprecedented $12 million research project combining new research surveys which provided previously unavailable data on snapper abundance in the Gulf. Nevertheless, the 2018 abundance estimates are consistent with the preliminary estimates produced by the Snapper Count for natural and artificial structures, or high relief areas. This is significant because the majority of fishing for red snapper takes place in those areas, not in the uncharacterized and unconsolidated bottom that makes up much of the Gulf. 

Standardizing State Data

The second issue is that some constituents believe the agency is forcing states to modify their red snapper data to match federal data. That is incorrect. Fishery managers need to compare red snapper catches to established landing limits to understand if the catch limits were met or exceeded. 

Red snapper catch limits were developed using state and federal data that included inputs from NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program. Red snapper landings are being estimated using state landings data from multiple and differing state surveys. The data behind the red snapper catch limits and the states’ landing estimates are collected in different ways and rely on different calculations. The data have to be standardized, meaning converted to a common set of units. This ensures that catch limits are set in units that are consistent across states, monitor catches, and allows managers to see apples-to-apples results. The Gulf Fishery Management Council, a body where all Gulf states have a vote, is still considering how to best standardize the data. 

Accuracy of State vs. Federal Data

The third issue I want to address is the common misperception that state red snapper data are more accurate and federal data less accurate or inaccurate. That is still an open question. The agency applauds and supports the states’ efforts to create specialized fisheries surveys to monitor red snapper in a more timely manner. In fact, we either funded or helped develop many of these surveys. Both federal and state data collections systems use statistically valid approaches. Additional research is needed to discern differences in surveys, and which represent the best available science.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and engage on this issue. I encourage all anglers who want to learn more, tune in to this week’s Gulf Council meeting. The agenda and login details are available at https://gulfcouncil.org/.

Russ Dunn, NOAA’s National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries.

Russ Dunn
NOAA’s National Policy Advisor for Recreational Fisheries

Last updated by Office of Communications on January 26, 2021

Red Snapper