“We live and die by stock assessments,” said Jimmy Hull, a commercial fisherman from Ormond Beach, Fla. His statement during an informal question-and-answer period held by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is part of an overall grievance a significant number of fishermen have with the fishery management process — that it’s not responsive to current conditions in fish stocks, and instead responding to conditions months or years earlier.
The SAFMC was in the second of a five-day meeting on Jekyll Island.
“Pretty much (assessments are) infrequent, they’re very complex modeling, and a lot of times they lack adequate data that can be trusted and weighed properly to get an accurate picture of our fisheries,” Hull said.
Bill Kelly of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association echoed the sentiment.
“We’ve got the (harvest) allocation that we think needs to be revisited on an annual basis — it’s easy enough to do with the data inputs we have nowadays, and then the second would be more frequent spot assessments on commercially important species, or economically important species, whether it’s the commercial sector or the recreational,” Kelly said.
A discussion that epitomized the push and pull between fishermen and those creating the fishery management regulations occurred recently with red snapper. Uncertain data led some people involved to say the stock was its best in years while conceding that may not actually be the case. Meanwhile, fishermen trusted what they were seeing on the water, which they said conflicted with how scientists characterized the fishery.
Hull said fishermen basically want the regulatory system to be simplified, easier and more timely.
Cisco Werner, the chief scientist for the fisheries arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, responded to Hull that NOAA Fisheries intends to move in a more responsive direction.
“I think that is something we’re working towards, in terms of stabilizing the models of stock assessments — the types of models that we’re using,” Werner said. “And, also streamlining the data that you mentioned — how do we bring in the data that we have, how we increase the throughput and once we have that understanding. Unless we have some major change we observe collectively, that’s, ‘OK, we need to rethink what we’re doing,’ that’s exactly the direction, the move I can go in.”
The SAFMC reconvenes at 8:30 a.m. today at the Westin Jekyll Island, and will hold a formal public comment period scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.