Red snapper are in the news for the numbers of fish being caught, and the fact that a Texas judge has snubbed the National Marine Fisheries Service. That, in turn, has lengthened the recreational snapper fishing season.
“A federal judge in Brownsville has ruled in favor of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in a joint lawsuit brought by both agencies challenging an emergency regulation enacted by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service,” says Mike Cox with TPWD. “The ruling means that the 2013 recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters off the Texas coast will be longer than it would have been under the emergency rule.”
Meanwhile, anglers fishing out of Sabine and Galveston report that catches of red snapper are better than ever. For example, Beaumont’s Dr. Curtis Thorpe made a run out of Sabine this past weekend and caught snapper to 26 pounds.
“We fished in about 236 feet of water and caught easy limits of huge snapper,” says Thorpe. “We were using live baits and jigs. You can’t believe how many snapper are out there. It’s incredible.”
Patrick Lemire with Williams Party Boats out of Galveston reports that they are catching limits of big snapper on just about every trip out. Nederland angler Harold Portier made a run with Williams and caught a red snapper limit to 14 pounds. Beaumont’s Steve Saur made a recent trip out with Williams Party Boats and caught a red snapper limit to 12 pounds on Carolina rigged Spanish sardines.
This past weekend, Capt. Johnny Williams took out 81 fishermen on a 12 hour trip. They fished 55 miles south of Galveston in about 125 feet of water. Three stops were made, and they caught about 100 red snapper at the first one and 50 at the second and completed the boat’s limit for the day, totaling 158. Most of those snapper weighed 12 to 18 pounds and were caught on bottom with cut squid and whole Spanish sardines.
In short, snapper fishing off the Texas coast is as good as anybody has ever experienced, and thanks to the recent ruling by a Texas judge, we’ll have a few extra days to fish in federal waters off the Texas coast.
“The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission is relieved the court has invalidated a rule that was arbitrarily unfair to Texas anglers, coastal communities and businesses,” said T. Dan Friedkin of Houston, TPW Commission chairman. “At the same time, we remain committed to a cooperative regional management approach to support the existing Gulf plan for the continued recovery of red snapper.”
Friedkin also praised Judge Andrew Hanen for his careful study of the issues and his acceleration of a final decision before the rule could be enforced to shorten snapper fishing in federal waters off Texas.
“Texas Parks and Wildlife supports a move toward science-based regional management for red snapper stocks that acknowledges differences between various regions of the Gulf, and we plan to advocate that position in future Gulf council meetings,” said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director.
Feb. 8, over the strong objections of state agency representatives from Louisiana, Texas and Florida, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to implement an emergency rule that would have shortened the recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters off the Texas, Louisiana, and Florida coasts, while extending the seasons in federal waters off the Alabama and Mississippi coasts.
Just weeks later, on April 18, the Gulf council voted 8 to 7 to overturn the emergency rule, in effect reversing the Feb. 8 vote. However, NMFS declined to rescind the original emergency rule as requested by the April 18 vote.
“As published in the federal register on March 25, the emergency rule would empower the NMFS southeast regional administrator to reduce the red snapper season in federal waters off Texas, Louisiana and Florida since those states had set seasons in state waters that were different than the seasons in federal waters,” says Cox. “In Texas, federal waters begin nine nautical miles from the state’s coast and extend 200 nautical miles.”
The joint lawsuit alleged that there was no emergency to justify the proposed rule. The last stock assessment indicates red snapper recovery remains on track. The two states also alleged that the emergency rule violates the federal policy of cooperative federalism by improperly attempting to regulate the red snapper season in state waters. The lawsuit also alleged that the emergency rule violated federal law by discriminating against anglers in Texas, Louisiana and Florida
“Judge Hanen’s opinion found the federal agency exceeded its authority under federal law when it declared an emergency instead of following the required normal procedures for providing public notice and seeking comment, including comments from fishermen,” says Cox. “The court also found the rule did not enhance red snapper conservation, but instead redistributed fishing opportunity from anglers in Texas, Louisiana and Florida to anglers based in Alabama and Mississippi. Judge Hanen held that such redistribution discriminated against anglers in states with fishing seasons that do not match the federal season and rewarded those living in states that do, in violation of federal law.”
TPWD estimates that the originally projected 27-day season would generate at least $28 million from recreational fishermen in Texas, while a 12-day season would cut that figure by at least $16 million in lost retail sales in Texas. For Louisiana, reducing a 45-day season to a nine-day season could result in an estimated decline in economic value of approximately $8 million to recreational anglers in that state.
“It will now be necessary for the NMFS to implement Gulf-wide seasons in accordance with the court’s decision,” says Cox. “The NMFS had estimated that ... the season would have been approximately 22 days.