In the seemingly endless battle over red snapper management, the Louisiana Department Wildlife and Fisheries took the boldest step to-date, by withdrawing from the NOAA Fisheries Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), the program currently in place to estimate the recreational harvest of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. A recent review of MRIP data by LDWF biologists indicates NOAA Fisheries has once again seriously miscalculated the recreational red snapper harvest rate for the Gulf of Mexico which resulted in an overharvest of actual Gulf-wide recreational landings during the federal season recommended by the Gulf Council. This mismanagement hinders the recovery of the stock and penalizes Louisiana anglers who now will likely not have an October federal red snapper season, even though they did not harvest over their allotted fish during the June season.
With support from the Commission, the Department will continue to move forward with its own Louisiana Recreational Creel Survey (LA Creel), a more precise data-gathering tool that will provide real-time quota monitoring to ensure the best management decisions are made.
“Data gathered through MRIP has once again provided such poor figures to make reasonable management decisions, our Department can no longer in good conscience participate in this program,” said LDWF Secretary Robert Barham. “Thanks to the participation of anglers in our mission to collect the best, most real-time data through our LA Creel program, I can say with great confidence that the state of the red snapper fishery in Louisiana will be better than ever moving forward.”
The LA Creel has improved methods for precisely estimating recreational harvests and implementing management measures. In the survey’s inaugural year, LDWF biologists measured 23 times more fish and interviewed more than 49 times the vessel trips than the MRIP survey did, already providing a better foundation for sound management of this fishery. With much more intense sampling, LA Creel will have much tighter confidence intervals and provide more reliable, timely data.
“The decision to move forward with the LA Creel and forgo the MRIP Survey was an easy one,” stated Assistant Secretary of Fisheries Randy Pausina. “As a state we can no longer afford to sit by while our recreational anglers are penalized due to mediocre data. It is our obligation as fisheries biologists working with Louisiana licensed anglers to provide the best information for responsibly managing our fisheries.”
For the sixth time in the last seven years, the Gulf of Mexico recreational harvest of red snapper has exceeded the annual catch limit (ACL), a direct result of catch allocations and fishing seasons set based on NOAA Fisheries’ uncertain data. The only year the limit was not exceeded in the last seven years was in 2010 when the recreational fishing season was shortened due to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Preliminary estimates indicate that actual catch was nearly 40 percent higher than the limit. This estimate does not include the harvest from Texas, which will drive the overage even higher.
“MRIP numbers are all over the place and have been for years,” added Pausina. “NOAA’s data collection method was never created to be a quota monitoring tool. We saw a need for a program that could provide this real-time, more robust information, so we simply created one.”
NOAA Fisheries uses MRIP landings estimates from previous years to predict upcoming harvests and set future fishing seasons. There can be a large difference between what NOAA Fisheries predicts will be harvested and how much is actually harvested, resulting in miscalculations and harvest overages. When the uncertainty of the MRIP estimates is examined, it is clear that it is nearly impossible to use these numbers to reasonably forecast recreational harvests.
MRIP landings estimates are so uncertain that Louisiana’s most recent landings (May through June 2013) are somewhere within a range of a half million pounds, between a low of 124,965 pounds and a high of 681,055 pounds. Therefore, there is a major issue in using this data to accurately predict how much will be harvested and appropriately determine catch allocations and fishing seasons to not exceed limits. For this and other reasons, LDWF will no longer conduct the MRIP survey, as of January 1, 2014.