The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced the state recreational red snapper season will remain open through the rest of December and will close at 11:59 pm on December 31, 2014. Using real-time data from LA Creel, our recreational landings monitoring program, we have determined that Louisiana anglers have not yet landed our state’s historic and projected share of the total Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper harvest (14 percent, or 754,000 pounds). The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission previously opened a state waters season for red snapper to extend Louisiana’s season from the nine-day federal waters season originally proposed by NOAA. NOAA based this short season on imprecise estimates of recreational red snapper landings from their Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP); with LA Creel’s more precise estimates, Louisiana officials knew that nine days would not allow our anglers sufficient opportunity to catch their share.
On January 1, 2014, the Department withdrew from MRIP and replaced it with LA Creel due to MRIP’s history of providing poor data and its inability to monitor landings in real-time. Had the Department accepted MRIP’s estimates and the subsequent nine-day season, Louisiana anglers would have only been able to land about 150,000 pounds of red snapper—far short of Louisiana’s historic landings. Through the extended state waters season, Louisiana anglers have landed about 605,000 pounds of red snapper to date, which is why the season can remain open through the rest of the year. Thanks to tremendous angler support of LA Creel and a recent saltwater license fee increase to continue to fund the program, the Department has the necessary tools to precisely monitor our recreational red snapper landings, flexibly manage the fishery, and maximize our anglers’ opportunities to fish red snapper.
The Department has continued negotiations with NOAA to recognize the validity of LA Creel and recently reached an agreement to “benchmark” LA Creel and officially establish it as a replacement for MRIP. Through the benchmarking process, the Department will run the MRIP survey side-by-side with LA Creel for the 2015 recreational fishing season. NOAA will compare the results from both surveys and adjust historic recreational landings estimates accordingly. Once LA Creel is benchmarked, Louisiana will no longer run MRIP, and officials hope that NOAA will support LA Creel and use its more precise results to conduct future stock assessments. This process paves the way for other Gulf states to adopt their own recreational angler survey programs, improves data collection, and helps move management of the recreational red snapper fishery forward.
Beginning in January 2015, Louisiana anglers can expect to see an increased survey presence as Department personnel conduct both surveys statewide throughout the calendar year. “Our anglers have always been incredibly patient and helpful with our biologists, whether at the dock, over the phone, or via email,” said Department Secretary Robert Barham. “We ask for and greatly appreciate their continued cooperation as we take this important step in our quest towards regional management.” Secretary Barham recently testified on the benefits of Louisiana’s enhanced data collection in support of state management of red snapper during the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs hearing on H.R. 3099—the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act of 2013.