SOFA has been working on a serious issue that can affect all fishing sectors. The National Marine Fisheries Service is instituting a new recreational data effort survey. The old survey was conducted by using a random digit phone dialing service sampling coastal county households. The new survey is done by USPS mail. The new mail survey has been accepted as the “best” by the NMFS. The NMFS is now taking the new mail survey and trying to apply it back in time to recalculate the effort in recreational fisheries back to 1981. This task is creating much controversy, so much so the Florida Fish and Wildlife officials have serious concerns and have expressed those concerns to the NMFS. In one communication the FWC staff states “the new effort numbers defy common sense”. We agree!
At the October Gulf Council meeting the new data system showed that in the red grouper fishery the recreational harvests since 1981 had dramatically increased, so much so that the historical allocation of the red grouper fishery of 76% commercial/24% recreational to 60% com/40% rec. While this may seem to a positive for some rec organizations who see the new numbers providing the rec sector more fish, the data shows that if the new allocation remains that in 2018 the rec sector would have exceeded their allocation which will require the NMFS to either reduce the current year round season to something less, modify the bag limit to fewer fish, increase the size limit, or some combination of all. Under the 24% rec allocation the rec sector would be below their allocation and no changes would be required.
SOFA encouraged the Council to seek more review from the Council Science and Statistical Committee to take a hard look at the new effort numbers. SOFA fully supports the FWC and other states in their effort to have the NMFS further review the new data system to see if there is a modeling problem, some numbers misplaced, or to provide a clear and definitive explanation as to why there is such a difference in the effort numbers produced by the new system vs the old.
Keep watching our web site for more updates as the SSC will meet on Jan 9, 2021 to further review this issue.