Sound science for fisheries management

By GEORGE LEMIEUX January 15, 2010

WASHINGTON The recent decisions to close Florida fisheries to recreational fishing fishermen are disappointing and threaten the livelihood of a great number of Floridians. Besides the lack of sound science on which to base these decisions, closures of the South Atlantic grouper and red snapper fishery in January and the Gulf of Mexico grouper fishery in February come during Florida's peak recreational fishing and tourism months.

These closures will add to the problems of already difficult economic times, not only for fishermen, but for those local business owners and families who depend on the recreational fishing industry and connected services for their livelihoods.

Recreational fishing is an important part of Florida's economy and a way of life for many Floridians. Recreational saltwater fishing in Florida has an economic impact exceeding $5.3 billion annually and supports more than
54,000 jobs. I understand the necessity of making tough choices in order to maintain the fishery for the benefit of future generations, but drastic measures, such as fishery-wide closures, should be based on sound science.

The fish stock monitoring systems that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) uses to base its management decisions is antiquated. For example, one component of the monitoring system gathers data through phone calls to coastal area households. A small number of surveyors are tasked with randomly calling households hoping to find active fishermen to poll. Not only does this sampling methodology fall short of covering more than a limited number of recreational fishermen, it relies primarily on fisherman recall and a willingness to share valid data.

In 2005, Congress convened a special hearing to examine the data collection process and charged the National Research Council (NRC) with conducting an in-depth analysis of the data collection methods used by NMFS. After much review their conclusion was not surprising. The NRC report called the process "fatally flawed," saying the monitoring systems had "serious flaws in design or implementation" and the "collections methods of recreational fishing surveys do not provide adequate data for management and policy decisions." That report was released five years ago and the data collection system remains the same today.

We need to improve the outdated systems currently used to manage our fisheries. Through more modern data collection, state and federal fishery managers will have access to the resources necessary to support sciencebased and proactive fisheries management decisions for the fisheries off Florida's coasts. Every Floridian wants our fisheries to be managed responsibly to ensure their continued vitality, but we also want the science behind these tough choices to be modern, consistent and sound.

George LeMieux is a Republican U.S. Senator from Florida.



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