Court Rules In Favor Of Red Grouper Allocations - The Fisherman

Court Rules In Favor Of Red Grouper Allocations

While southerners are embracing the decision, northerners are left scratching their heads over what might’ve been in terms of allocation percentages of fluke, sea bass and porgies.

Earlier this year the US District Court for the District of Columbia has confirmed an important precedent regarding the use of improved historical recreational harvest data to update allocations in marine fisheries, something the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) says could have “profound implications for federal fisheries management.”

The Court’s ruling comes in a lawsuit initiated by the commercial fishing industry that attempted to roll back an updated allocation in the Gulf of Mexico red grouper fishery. Both CCA and the State of Louisiana intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of recreational anglers.

“This is an important win for recreational angling,” said Bill Bird, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “It is a technical issue, but with the federal management process set to recalibrate historical recreational data in every fishery, it was absolutely critical to defend the precedent set in Gulf red grouper so that real-world recreational fishing opportunities were not dramatically reduced in the future. We are pleased that the Court has confirmed how these recalibrations should be considered and implemented.”

At issue are recalibrations of NOAA’s historical recreational harvest data using improved techniques that have been deemed the best scientific information available. The recalibration process often results in a new understanding of the fishery population and impacts the formula for determining allocations that have been based on past-catch history. Commercial and recreational catch data are often the most robust datasets managers have and are the driving force in stock assessments determining the size of the stock and thus the allowable catch.

“The Court has confirmed the concept that the recalibration of historical recreational data is not a reallocation; it is simply a data correction that provides a more accurate picture of what is actually happening in a fishery,” said Bird.

Regrettably, the Court’s findings were announced after the fluke, sea bass and porgy reallocation horse left the barn.  In December of 2021, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Board announced official changes to the commercial and recreational allocations of summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass.  As of 2023, the new allocation breakdown was set as 55/45 in favor of commercial fishery for fluke, 65/35 in favor of commercial sector for porgies, and 55/45 in favor of recreational sector in the black sea bass fishery.

However, according to NOAA Fisheries’ historical recreational harvest data showing the average “catch” from 2014 to 2018 the true proportional breakdown for fluke arguably should’ve been 60% recreational versus 40% commercial, 44% recreational versus 56% for commercial between 2004 and 2018; while in terms of black sea bass the average 2009 to 2018 catch proportions show recreational fishermen with 76% of catch over the commercial sector’s 24%.