Feds want shorter snapper season

Red snapper

The National Marine Fisheries Service is once again tampering with red snapper regulations for recreational anglers, and it’s not sitting very well with both fishermen and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This month, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, part of the NMFS, voted to recommend an emergency rule that could shorten the recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters off the Texas coast to as little as 11 days from the planned 27 day season. If that sounds crazy, it is, and that’s mainly because catches of red snapper are better than they have ever been for sport fishermen. Beaumont’s John Blackwell, who has been snapper fishing out of Sabine and Galveston for decades, says their catches of red snapper have never been better. “We’re catching more and bigger red snapper than ever before,” says Blackwell. “There are so many snapper out there that you can hardly get a bait to bottom when fishing around the rigs, rocks and wrecks.” Recreational anglers have thought for years that the NMFS is controlled by the commercial red snapper fishermen. And with this latest recommendation by the Gulf Council, you’ve got to scratch your head and wonder if it’s true. Over the past 10 years, the feds have consistently reduced the number of days recreational anglers can fish for red snapper in federal waters. In so doing, they have just about eliminated sport fishing for red snapper. “The recommendation passed by a narrow majority, over strong opposition by representatives from Texas and Louisiana, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and a representative from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,” said Tom Harvey with TPWD. Harvey says that TPWD is stunned by the Gulf Council’s snapper recommendation. The rule would give the NMFS southeast regional administrator authority to shorten the snapper season in federal Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters off Texas. State waters extend from the coast out to nine nautical miles.” “We are simply outraged by this move to penalize Texas anglers, local economies and fisheries for simply exercising our regulatory authority in Texas waters,” said T. Dan Friedkin of Houston, TPW Commission chairman. “This is not a recipe for a successful collaborative approach to fisheries management. I do not intend to stand idly by while Texas anglers are penalized by such egregious federal overreach.” Harvey says that TPWD leaders noted the unusual circumstances surrounding the emergency rule recommendation. This included how a vote for the rule failed 9 to 8, but backers of the rule persisted with a second vote after lunch, when the measure finally passed 10 to 7. “This recommendation is clearly directed at Texas and it strikes me as more punitive and political, rather than biological, because state regulations in Texas waters have not mirrored those set by the Gulf Council in recent years,” said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. “This is not a victory for red snapper, but rather a loss for Texas anglers and coastal communities.” The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional Fishery Management Councils established by the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Council prepares fishery management plans designed to manage fishery resources within the 200-mile limit of the Gulf of Mexico. Current allocation of red snapper is 51 percent commercial and 49 percent recreational. Since the Commercial Individual Fishing Quota Program was put in place, the commercial sector has not exceeded its quota, according to the Gulf Council. However, they maintain that in recent years the recreational sector has exceeded its quota. Because of tha,t we have faced shorter seasons. The Gulf Council met in Mobile, Ala., Feb. 5-8, to discuss a number of fishery issues, including many related to the management of red snapper. Here are some of the actions taken by the Council. Regional management is considering dividing the federal red snapper quota among states or regions, potentially giving them authority to set their own bag limits and seasons. States or regions would have more flexibility in choosing season and bag limits, but this would not necessarily result in more fishing days, according to the Gulf Council. Under a regional management system, red snapper would remain a federally managed species subject to federal conservation goals, and the Council would continue to allocate the recreational quota and set the size limit. The purpose of this amendment is to increase net benefits from red snapper fishing, and to increase the stability of the recreational red snapper component of the reef fish fishery. The Council put this amendment on hold until after the current red snapper stock assessment is completed and the results can be analyzed. The Council took final action on framework to eliminate the 2008 requirement to have and use a venting tool. This is a device that is inserted into red snapper to release air that can kill them after being released. These recommendations will be presented to the Council during the April meeting in Gulfport, Mississippi. In order to become law, the actions must first be approved and implemented by the Secretary of Commerce.