The Great Red Snapper Count
The report has been released early.
For those interested, 439 pages
What did they do:
This project surveyed the same areas as the feds do with the Stock Assesment,
natural and artificial reefs, in those locations, the GRSC found similar amounts
of fish as the feds did at those locations, validating the fed counts for those areas as accurate.
They also looked at areas the fed does not,
the sand and mud bottom between the reefs,
they call this UCB Uncharacterized Bottom.
These will be small rocks or pieces of coral,
or a discarded tire, natural depression or hole, etc,
that hold a fish or three on them.
They formed a 1km x 1km grid, mapped all the natural
and artificial reefs, did fish count, then swept the entire box
looking for additional fish on the UCB.
This was done in a number of locations in different states,
then this data was multiplied out based on how much UCB bottom,
basically the rest of the ocean bottom that is not a natural/manmade reef,
and assumed fish would be found on all this remaining bottom in similar
quantity as their survey boxes.
On this UCB bottom, that was multiplied out,
was where the 3x potential extra fish were theoretically "found".
What did they find:
They found Red Snapper in very small groupings on the UCB.
Majority of the fish were in the 2-8 year range, with very few larger fish,
and of the 2-8 year range fish, majority were in the 8-12" range.
How will it effect fishermen immediately:
Based on my knowledge of the process,
I do not see any increase in quota/bag limit occurring in 2021.
A change in quota comes after a new stock assessment,
this information could POSSIBLY be incorporated into the
next stock assessment, which I think is in 2022.
I would not expect any increase in bag limits or season length
until 2023 potentially.
Of course, the states could once again choose to ignore the Fed,
decided to expand their season/bag,
go out of compliance, overfish the quota,
have the overage deducted from the following year,
and get back to 2 week federal seasons again,
because the states overfished in state waters.
Highly likely, as usually the worst choice is selected
when it becomes political.
Concerns fisheries managers will potentially have:
1. Stock Recruitment - this is how many fish made it
to year 1, based on how many breeders are projected to be in the ocean.
For years, with RS, the one thing that puzzled fisheries scientists
was the SR for red snapper was unusually high, meaning far more fish
were surviving from egg to year 1 than should have.
They assumed there had to be a "cryptic biomass" an unaware biomass
that was adding to the reproduction efforts, but with no proof of this,
they assigned this higher productivity to the breeders they assessed in the ocean.
Meaning, a larger breeder RS on paper, was producing more young fish than they actually were,
as some of this extra productivity is coming from these extra red snapper that were found.
This is an important factor, as the stock can only be considered rebuilt,
and quotas expanded once there is enough older breeders to provide the
proper stock recruitment to keep the population sustainable,
there are federal fisheries laws that require this.
So, if you have 100 breeders, and now you learn they are not solely responsible
for all these new fish, then you need MORE breeders,
meaning a potential DELAY in the rebuilding of the stock,
and extending the time period of when quotas can be expanded fully.
2. This survey found that fishing pressure was disproportionally
focused on areas that had the minority of the biomass, artificial/natural reefs,
as 1/3 the fish in this survey are found on that type of structure,
and the majority, 2/3 of the biomass is found on UCB.
The concern will be, any increase in bag limit will focus more
fishing pressure on the artificial/natural reefs,
creating a situation where they will be fished hard/out by midseason,
and in subsequent years, fishing productivity will decline for the fishermen
in these locations.
It will be hard for most fishermen to target tiny groups of snapper on UCB /open bottom,
so the extra effort/harvest will occur on the reefs.