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Red Snapper Medics Studying The Crash

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.

red snapper crash chartRepresentative 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.

2 comments to Red Snapper Medics Studying The Crash

  • John Shepherd

    I fish in the gulf of mexico almost every weekend during the summer months. The American Red Snapper is, in my opinion, currently the most abundent reef fish in the gulf of mexico. Red Snapper are everywhere, you can’t drop a bait to the bottom without catching one. It takes only minents to catch your alloted limit. There is no shorted of red snapper in the gulf of mexico and I know first hand.
    As an american I should be able to take my boat and catch my family a meal of freah fish, why is the abundent resource restricted and talk of it being banned all together. Something is badly wrong with the so called science that is used to justify this restriction.

    • John, scientific measurements of fish populations are a great deal more rigorous than your sampling of going out in a single boat every now and then and dropping “bait to the bottom”. If you could come up with some more comprehensive information than just your opinion, perhaps you’d be more successful in countering regulation. A comparison of current red snapper populations with historical levels would also be helpful.

      I see that you own a business that makes its livelihood on people buying boats to go out and have fun in the Gulf of Mexico. Might that have something to do with your opposition to fisheries management?

      You might want to consider that if fish populations dwindle due to overfishing, your business won’t have much long term success.

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