Department of Commerce encouraged overfishing of red snapper

Memos reveal plan to draw criticism from fishermen, NGOs by extending the recreational season


Internal memos between Earl Comstock, director of Policy and Strategic Planning for Commerce, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross reportedly show that both men intentionally violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act, knowing that extending the recreational red snapper fishery from three to 42 days this summer would lead to significant overfishing.

“It would result in overfishing of the stock by 6 million pounds (40 percent), which will draw criticism from environmental groups and commercial fishermen,” wrote Comstock, in a June 1 memo to Ross. “However NMFS agrees that this stock could handle this level on a temporary basis.”

The memos were released as part of an Ocean Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund lawsuit filed against the Department of Commerce.

“Congress would need to act to prevent reduced catch limits for all fishing sectors next year. This problem will not be able to be addressed through the fishery management system without a change of law,” Comstock said, adding that inevitable overfishing would “put the ball squarely in the court of Congress.”

It is implied in the memos that the overfishing crisis would lead to a Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization that leaned toward favoring recreational interests.

“We now have alarming proof that the Department of Commerce knew their decision was illegal, would result in overfishing, and would hurt fishermen by causing significant reductions in fishing next year,” said Meredith Moore, director of the Fish Conservation Program at Ocean Conservancy. “We need solutions that keep our oceans healthy for the long term, not short-term workarounds that bypass the law and benefit some at the cost of others.”

About the author

Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill is associate editor for National Fisherman.

  • Thomas Hilton

    Magnuson needs to be gutted – it has caused billions of dollars in needless damage to Gulf coastal economies.

  • Todd Verhoeven

    There are so many fish taken by recreational anglers, legal or not, that are never accounted for.

  • william skrobacz

    You got my vote!abolish NMFS!!!!!!!!!!

  • Bill Tucker

    The problem with recreational red snapper management in the Gulf is a typical ‘tragedy of the commons’ scenario. Excess effort, overcapacity, and an unwillingness to equitably distribute the recreational quota among the recreational user group,( a group that managers do not even identify, or count), are basic issues that are taboo among the recreational elites. How many recreational red snapper fishermen are there in the Gulf? Good luck finding the answer. It is the first step toward a frank discussion of the issue.

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