The federal government's management of Gulf fisheries has created some of the most chaotic, dysfunctional and unsatisfactory fisheries in the country, and now it seems that the agency is set on bringing that same experience to our red drum fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA Fisheries is currently seeking comment on a two-year plan to allow harvest of breeding-size red drum in federal waters for the first time in decades. Through the use of an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP), a tool that has been intentionally misused repeatedly to circumvent regular management procedures and skirt public opinion, Mississippi for-hire vessels would be allowed to target 30,000 pounds of over-sized red drum to collect "scientific data" on the stock.
Representing this EFP as a science tool is grossly misleading and inaccurate.
Very clear scientific goals were established at the Red Drum Data Needs workshop in July 2014 - none of which are addressed by this proposal. That workshop, requested by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, determined that "Fishery Dependent" data (such as those collected by fishermen and those that would be collected by this EFP) were already more than adequately represented for each state.
That same workshop determined that what is needed are "Fishery Independent Data" collected by scientists. Large purse seine studies sampling 10-20 fish from different schools are ongoing from Florida to Louisiana by universities and marine institutes. Those studies will provide vastly more useful information for a much more geographically broad and comprehensive assessment.
This red drum EFP will add nothing to further knowledge of the red drum stock, as shown by the Gulf Council's own red drum data workshop. At best, it would be duplicative and unnecessary. There is simply no scientific justification for this EFP, and it should be rejected. The entire Exempted Fishing Permit concept should be overhauled to require genuine scientific oversight to prevent willful misuse.
Anyone who has watched the manipulation of the red snapper fishery the past few years should be extremely alarmed at the implications of this federal overreach into one of the great state-based marine conservation victories. The EFP is limited to Mississippi's for-hire industry today, but it is certain to spread rapidly to other states if it is approved.
It is critical for recreational anglers and conservationists to get engaged and prevent the red drum fishery from sliding into greed-driven chaos. Comments on this EFP are being accepted until April 23 - click below to send in your comments opposing red drum harvest in federal waters.