Suit says anglers take too many snapper

Commercial fishers have sued the federal government, claiming that recreational anglers have been awarded a disproportionate amount of the annual red snapper harvest. The suit says that the National Marine Fishery Service has violated provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law governing federal fisheries.

Under federal law, commercial fishers get 51 percent of the annual red-snapper take, while recreational anglers get 49 percent.

The suit alleges that the federal government’s “failure to effectively manage the red snapper fishery has resulted in chronic over harvesting by the recreational sector,” which “undermines the conservation goal of rebuilding the red snapper stock and harms all stakeholders in the fishery.”

Commercially, red snapper are harvested under an individual fishing quota program that was established in 2007. As part of the IFQ process, fishers are awarded quotas each year, the size of which depends on how healthy the overall stock is.

Commercial boats, by law, must be outfitted with vessel-monitoring systems that allow NMFS to track daily movements. Commercial fishers also must alert NMFS before leaving and returning to port.

The measures are designed to ensure commercial boats don’t exceed their red-snapper quotas.

Because the recreational red-snapper take is managed by bag limits, it’s more difficult for NMFS to estimate when the sector’s overall quota has been reached and the fishery needs to be closed, according to the lawsuit.

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