There’s a kind of blindness humans have, when it comes to the endangered species of the sea. We don’t live underwater, and so most of us don’t have much of an idea of what ocean life looks like now, or what it once looked like. Not knowing the difference, and not having any way to see things for ourselves, it can be easy to accept hearsay about the sea at face value.
That’s what Congressman John Mica has done when it comes to the red snapper. The red snapper is not a sunburned jazz musician, or an angry Republican. It’s a fish. In the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic, it’s a fish that’s in danger of extinction if fishing practices aren’t changed. That’s not just a matter of opinion. It’s an assessment based on consistent scientific observations.
The following chart for example, is based on a long-term series of surveys and data assessments by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. It shows the scientific estimate of the the biomass of red snapper in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
Representative John Mica responds to this kind of scientific data with second-hand anecdotal information. “The fishermen I’ve talked with, both sport and commercial, say… there are strong runs of snapper and grouper,” he says. Of course, the fishermen John Mica has talked to are members of a political group that is seeking to block fishing regulations designed to protect the red snapper. They have a bias, the kind of bias that large-scale, long-term scientific observations are designed to avoid.
It’s not just one source of research that indicates current fishing practices are threatening to red snapper. Governmental surveys take place in the larger context of studies by other scientists, like Dr. William Patterson, Dr. James Cowan, Dr. Ronald Phelps, and more scientists, and more scientists. A lack of research on the red snapper is not the problem. A lack of action is.
Yet, John Mica, and his constituency of fishing interests, doesn’t like the result of the scientific research that exists, so they’re asking for action on the ecological crisis of the red snapper be halted, until a new study can be conducted – this one not by fisheries scientists, but by the Department of Commerce. That’s why Congressman Mica has introduced a bill, H.R. 3307, that would interfere with current fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Mica’s bill would prohibit limitations under Magnuson-Stevens until the completion Department of Commerce study.
What you see in the chart above is, in plain terms, a crash. When paramedics come upon a car crash, they don’t wait for additional medical studies of the conditions of the people in the car before acting. They can see the trauma quite plainly, and they apply emergency medicine on the spot to prevent death and enable the next step in more targeted care.
The condition of the red snapper in both the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico is like the condition of people who have been in a serious car crash. More study on red snapper populations would be great. Delaying action to rescue the red snapper from extinction until additional research is completed would be insane.