Managing GOM Red Snapper with Scientific or Social Data?

snapper-opener10-02-lgMaybe it was just me - Or did anyone else see a parallel between the recent extension of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper season and the George Zimmerman trial?

The fish story went like this: in a special meeting of the GOM Fishery Management Council in New Orleans, the Council voted to increase the 2013 red snapper total quota from 8.46 million pounds to 11 million. This means that in a 51/49 commercial –recreational split if National Marine Fisheries Service determines that if unused recreational quota is available a supplemental season will open October 1 and run continuously until that quota is met. Best estimates place that time frame to be approximately 21 days long.

Great news for those charter skippers and recreational anglers who enjoy spending crisp, fall days easily limiting out on one of the gulf’s most highly targeted species.

This combined with 28 days already fished is a far cry from the dire 9 day total red snapper season Louisianan anglers were facing earlier this spring.

How we got here from there is where the most famous trial since O.J has ties to fishery management. First off they are both functions of government, albeit one judicial and the other administrative. Secondly, while resource management and the judicial system both have clearly spelled out protocol to follow both have shown a similarity of being influenced by outside, "social" interference.

First, the Zimmerman case. Hindsight has shown that the local Sanford police chief correctly refused to charge Zimmerman with a crime because of a lack of sufficient evidence. Furthermore, the refusal to have a grand jury consider the case demonstrates an even poorer choice brought about by outside influences. Those being civil rights groups, minority associations, the Justice Department, elected officials right up to the President of the United States. None of which should impact the direction a state, courtroom legal proceeding takes. Yet it did and continues today despite the case is closed.

Notice anything familiar about the red snapper issue? In a perfect world, the NMFS and Gulf Council should have all the scientific evidence it needs to determine harvest quotas, daily creel and size limits and all other regulations pertaining to the fishery.

Consider the outside pressure NMFS felt this year in determining snapper quotas and seasons. You can’t say it wasn’t deserved. Anytime an agency admits the data its been using is inherently flawed but can’t do anything about it certainly invites criticism.

The strongest criticism comes from the states the federal agency is supposed to serve. As like never before, respective state agencies from the gulf states no longer went along with federal guidelines by instituting its own "non-compliant" dates and limits in the state waters for which they have jurisdiction. They also got pressure from various fishery conservation and fisherman's rights organizations. Collectively, they represent a significant number. More congressional delegates have gotten involved recently, the result of increased constituent involvement. Empirical evidence played as big if not a bigger role than Washington statistics and that’s a major concession.

The bureaucrats in the decision-making position can defend their moves by saying they strictly followed protocol if they choose. But anyone who believes that outside pressure had nothing to do with increasing the harvest of red snapper in 2013 and possible subsequent years probably believes George Zimmerman did not act in self defense.