Federal red snapper regulations are way off the mark

Robert Sloan photo

Just recently, NOAA Fisheries opted to give recreational anglers a nine-day red snapper season that left anglers along the entire Gulf Coast red in the face with frustration.

Based on the annual catch targets and accounting for the red snapper harvest in state waters outside the federal season, the federal season for the private angling component will be nine days, and the federal season for the federally permitted for-hire boats will be 46 days. The commercial red snapper season runs year-round using its privatized catch share system.

This year’s red snapper recreational season in federal waters will open on June 1 and close on June 10. It’s the shortest season on record despite the fact that the total allowable catch of red snapper in the Gulf is the largest in the history of the species under management.

The Coastal Conservation Association says that federal management has created a class of commercial sea lords, comprised of 55 commercial operators who own more than 70 percent of the commercial harvest and spurred development of hybrid catch share experience trips in which charter operators lease fish from commercial harvesters to sell to recreational anglers.

It has produced convoluted measures that are seen nowhere else in the management of wildlife in this country, according to the CCA — not in ducks or deer or bass. With the federal government now focused on private ownership programs for industrial harvesters and the charter/for-hire sector, the ability of recreational anglers to be a part of the process is being eliminated.

One way to fight the commercial domination of the red snapper fishery is with HR. 3094, sponsored by Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.). It would transfer authority for the entire red snapper fishery to the Gulf states.

According to the CCA, fisheries directors for the five Gulf States are professional stewards of the resource, with extensive training in wildlife management in general and marine science in particular. Their state-based management plan for red snapper is based on concepts they have used successfully on species like red drum and speckled trout in the Gulf. The CCA says that neither of those fisheries were subjected to privatization schemes and the states still managed to provide an unprecedented level of access for their citizens. All have been cited as tremendous conservation success stories.

“The federal government has had decades to get red snapper management right and has given recreational anglers a nine-day season,” according to the CCA. “The answer to complicated fishery problems cannot be to funnel access through fewer and fewer for-profit entities and leave everyone else tied to the dock. It’s time to let the states finally provide the remedy.”

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How to catch more bass on Toledo Bend

Noted Toledo Bend guide Harold Allen said the heavily stained water won’t keep the lake from producing numbers of bass it’s become known for.

With the spawn pretty much over, one very good pattern is to fish deep.

“The last five or six major tournaments here have been won deep,” said Allen. “There should be a good grass bite early in the morning, and that might be a good way to get a couple of big fish. There are good fish being caught as deep as 32 feet right now.”

Allen expects frogs and other topwater presentations to be good for the first hour or two each day. But then he said anglers will likely have to move to the mid-range depths of 8 to 10 feet with some type of moving bait, like a swimbait. Big fish will be caught deep with big worms and swimbaits. He said umbrella rigs have been a big producer on the lake recently.

To demonstrate how many big fish are being caught on the fishery this year, Allen pointed to the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program. Under program rules, anglers who weigh in a bass that tips the scales at 10 pounds or more at one of several pre-determined locations receive a free replica mount — as long as the fish can be released unharmed back into the lake.

After awarding 81 replicas in all of 2015, anglers have already weighed in 137 qualifying bass this year with almost two weeks remaining. Based in part on that output of giant bass, Bassmaster Magazine ranked Toledo Bend No. 1 on its current annual list of America’s 100 Best Bass Lakes.