Cooperative Research Could Be Beneficial

Will Geraghty

Surely there are endless metaphors to describe Representative David Jolly’s (R-Indian Shores, FL) Gulf Red Snapper Data Improvement Act. While not quite a “silver bullet,” I would call it pretty darn close. The proposed Gulf Red Snapper Data Improvement Act does contain important measures, which will not only enhance the Gulf of Mexico reef fishery, but also bridge a gap between constituent and stakeholder distrust in the entire council process that appears to bleed into Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization conversations.

The Gulf Red Snapper Data Improvement Act, laden with modern and passionately requested ideas to improve the management models already firmly in place and “working” for betterment of the fishery, allows opportunities to connect science and those that gather it to supply to managers. Jolly’s proposal offers impressive funding to the tune of $10M annually toward third-party data collection for federal stock assessments in coordination between academics, fishermen, and independent scientists.

While you might ask yourself, is this just more funding thrown at the highly political red snapper fishery? The bold answer within the bill is NO, as potential funding covers all reef fish, not only red snapper. In a nutshell, the Gulf Red Snapper Data Improvement Act provides an innovative approach to develop and incorporate data and science from cooperative peer-reviewed research involving academia, fishermen representing both managed sectors, and other fisheries resources. If passed, everyone—all stakeholders—will have a seat at the table!

The general disconnect between the established management process and those who use the resource is a result of mistrust in the information or data gathered and used to develop management strategies. Less than a half-dozen public speakers into a scoping meeting and it becomes perfectly clear that the largest hurdle might not be counting fish but perhaps the buy-in from those whom will ultimately benefit from a robust fishery—the very same thing we see in any conversations pertaining to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Jolly’s Gulf Red Snapper Data Improvement Act will provide a level of transparency not witnessed in today’s current Gulf management process by injecting “outside” eyes into the stock assessment process. Furthermore, stakeholders will have more ownership as the bill allows third-party entities to develop and test innovative data collection tools or methods and scientific protocols that will ultimately be transformative to the management process while building stakeholder trust into the process.

As a federal charter-for hire fishermen, I am ecstatic to be on the “hook” and have an increased role in revolutionizing the way data is collected and science is used to improve and strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s council management process. I relish the opportunity to take an active role in gathering fishery dependent and independent data, and the Jolly Bill allows me this role.

I have engaged heavily with scientists and researchers in fieldwork related to barotrauma/re-compression gear (fishery independent data). Barotrauma devices are new opportunities for fishermen involvement with science, and are exciting and welcomed changes for this seasoned skipper and hopefully others moored throughout the Gulf. Unfortunately, researchers on my boat have had to scratch for resources to forward barotrauma science in the Gulf, though it is widely touted as successful, best-handling practices for west coast fisheries. Jolly’s bill could bridge this funding gap for researchers and those of us that provide rides to and insights into the fishery.

Remember, what’s important with the Jolly Bill is that it provides for betterment of the fishery for ALL—not just a guide, charter-for hire, or commercial windfall. Even private anglers can engage with researchers in this process.

With the Gulf states requesting more responsibility with management of red snapper and other species, essentially breaking the Magnuson-Stevens Act and imperiling the Gulf’s fisheries, this bill allows for a pathway to develop more transparent, more robust, and tighter resolution models for science and management assessment tools.

In fact, the opportunity for cooperative research, bettering science, and engaging fishermen could provide real-time management strategies that provide increased resource access, meaning more days on the water while simultaneously monitoring and rebuilding the Gulf’s fisheries in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Here in the Gulf states, we once again have an opportunity to harness and apply the protection standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act for the benefit of the resource, all stakeholders, and the entire nation. Clearly the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not need to be re-examined but perhaps adjusted in certain areas to include some areas of better transparency and more stakeholder engagement. The Magnuson-Stevens Act works, it works well, and the proposed Gulf Red Snapper Data Improvement Act is indeed a quality example of how compatible legislation can strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s successful resource protections.

About Will Geraghty

Capt. Will Geraghty is a professional fishing guide, freelance writer, and fisheries advocate residing in Naples Florida. Capt. Will has more than twenty-five years of experience plying the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic waters for exciting gamefish and reef species. Active in the Southwest Florida fishing community, Capt. Will's bylines can be found in many print- and internet-based publications, including his weekly fishing column published in the Naples Daily News.

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