Senator Wicker takes on NOAA in Sun Herald Op-Ed

In the op-ed, Wicker called out NOAA for proposed changes to the catch limit framework used for...
In the op-ed, Wicker called out NOAA for proposed changes to the catch limit framework used for the Gulf of Mexico red snapper industry.
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 5:55 PM CDT
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PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS, took aim at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a July 3 op-ed for the Sun Herald.

In the op-ed, Wicker called out NOAA for proposed changes to the catch limit framework used for the Gulf of Mexico red snapper industry.

“Fishing for red snapper is a popular pastime on the Gulf Coast, one that brings together fishermen, boat makers, bait suppliers and restaurant owners,” writes Wicker. “This prosperous industry centers on three months of open fishing during the summer. To my dismay, regulators in Washington are now proposing a rule that could cut Mississippi’s season down to two weeks without any sound science.”

The proposed changes would implement two framework actions:

  1. Increase federal annual catch limits (ACL)
  2. Application of calibration ratio to state ACLs

Statisticians use calibration to compare data from differing sources by adapting the data into a standard currency, or unit. The ratio measures the numerical difference between the data sources.

The NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology, in collaboration with gulf state representatives, developed the calibration ratios in an effort to reconcile data from individual state survey methods into a standardized unit. The affected gulf states include: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

According to an explanation provided by NOAA, calibration would allow for reporting continuity across state surveys and allow for comparison between new catch limits and historical catch limits.

The proposed calibration ratio for Mississippi, however, would cut Mississippi’s 2023 season by 60% - from 151,550 lbs. to 59,354 lbs. Wicker said this drastic cut would put Gulf Coast businesses at risk and urged invested Mississippians to submit public comments to NOAA by July 28.

“This new quota is based on the false assumption we are overfishing,” writes Wicker. “The problem boils down to NOAA’s flawed data collection methods.”

“NOAA calculates our fishing levels based on non-empirical phone surveys. Based on these surveys, NOAA estimates there are 1,500 fishing boats on the water daily in Mississippi, but this figure is overblown.”

Traditionally, NOAA used the Coastal Household Telephone Survey (CHTS) to generate recreational fishery statistics. From 2015 to 2017, however, NOAA began to conduct the CHTS side-by-side with the Fishing Effort Survey (FES).

“Generally speaking, the Fishing Effort Survey produces significantly higher estimates of shore and private boat fishing effort than the Coastal Household Telephone Survey,” reads the statistical calibration overview article by NOAA. “In July 2018, NOAA Fisheries calibrated its entire time series of recreational catch and effort estimates to account for these changes. The calibrated time series shows us what our historical estimates would have looked like if our new and improved survey designs had been in place all along.”

Mississippi has its own recreational survey system called the “Tails n’ Scales” app, which allows anglers to self-report their catch through their phones.

“In Mississippi, we have pioneered the ‘Tails n’ Scales’ app...,” writes Wicker. “This has enabled Mississippi to track 95 percent of all red snapper anglers. Based on these and other state metrics, last year Mississippi counted 256 fishing boats on the busiest day of red snapper season. Yet NOAA has failed to give our numbers due consideration.”

Wicker said that the U.S. Congress allocated $2 million to NOAA to explore better data calibration methods, and he was “surprised” to see they appeared absent from the new rule.

He writes that this is just another disappointing “raw deal” that NOAA has tried to give the state of Mississippi.

“Mississippi will not be alone in bearing the cost of NOAA’s poor methods. Anglers in Alabama stand to lose weeks if not months of their fishing season,” writes Wicker. “No state is ultimately safe from federal rules that disregard the best data. With the proposed rule now listed in the Federal Register, I would encourage all stakeholders to provide public comment on why NOAA got this wrong.”

NOAA’s public comment period ends on July 28, and the rule would take affect Jan. 1, 2023, if passed.

The proposed changes do not affect commercial ACLs, which would increase in 2023.

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