WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Marine Fisheries Service must redevelop its management plan for the Gulf of Mexico red snapper, a federal judge ruled.
Designated by the federal agency as overfished in 1988, the reddish-colored fish averages about 24 inches in length, can weight up to 50 pounds and thrives in reef environments.
In 2004, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved an amendment to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan that estimated overfishing of the species would end in 2010 and the stock rebuilt by 2032.
Since that time, the number of fish that can be caught in a season, in conjunction with the plan, has been split 51-50 between the commercial and recreational industries.
A group of 30 plaintiffs had challenged the plan in a June 2013 federal complaint, alleging that the agency mismanaged the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico to the point of “chronic” overharvesting.
They said the service failed to come up with an effective method for tallying red snapper harvest numbers, and that the inaccuracies led to continued overfishing of the snapper in the recreational sector.
“Overharvesting by the recreational sector undermines the conservation goal of rebuilding the red snapper stock and harms all stakeholders in the fishery,” the complaint states.
The complaint accuses the council and service, abbreviated as NMFS, of failing in its duty to figure in an appropriate “conservative” buffer to account for any “management uncertainty.”
“In 2012, for example, the recreational sector … was 3.989 million pounds of red snapper, but the recreational sector caught 5.823 million pounds of red snapper, an overage of 1.834 million pounds, or 46 percent,” the complaint states.
That the agency did not deem overfishing a threat to the red snapper stock in 2012 despite these calculations requires judicial intervention, the plaintiffs said.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Washington, D.C., granted the plaintiffs summary judgment Wednesday.
“The court finds that the May final rule, June temporary rule, and the September final rule were arbitrary and capricious, and not in accordance with the MSA,” Rothstein wrote, abbreviating the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. “Under the MSA, NMFS has a statutory duty to: prohibit the retention of fish after quotas are reached in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery; use the best scientific information available when making management decisions; require whatever accountability measure are necessary to constrain catch to the quota; avoid decisions that directly conflict with the [fishery management plan’s] allocation of catch; and, where sectors are managed separately, avoid penalizing one sector for overages that occur only in another.”
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