Commercial haul of red snapper is out of control

NOAA Fisheries continued its march to completely shut down the recreational red snapper fishery in federal waters with its announcement that the recreational season for red snapper will be open for three days.

Believe it or not, NOAA Fisheries is giving recreational fishermen three whole days to go after red snapper in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. It is the shortest snapper season in history and is a direct slap in the face to all salty recreational anglers, and a huge favor for commercial fishing. How could a federal agency be so out of touch with the taxpaying citizens that keep them in business? One of our Texas politicians said last week, “Red snapper is a manmade fishery management disaster.”

“NOAA Fisheries continued its march to completely shut down the recreational red snapper fishery in federal waters with its announcement that the recreational season for red snapper will begin on June 1 and last just three days in 2017,” says Ted Venker with the Coastal Conservation Association. “While the recreational season is being decreased from nine days in 2016 to just three this year, it was also announced that the season for the charter/for-hire sector is being lengthened to 49 days while the commercial sector continues to enjoy year-round access to their privately held red snapper shares.”

Here’s the million-dollar question: If the Gulf population of red snapper is in trouble, why is there still a commercial harvest?

“On the same day that NOAA Fisheries announced the shortest recreational red snapper season in history, Mark Ray, chairman of CCA Texas, was testifying before a Congressional hearing on dismal federal management of the fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. Ray told the House Subcommittee on Interior, Energy and the Environment, chaired by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), that red snapper is a man-made fishery management disaster.”

That’s a fact. For years, recreational anglers have been complaining about the mismanagement of red snapper stocks in the Gulf of Mexico. Offshore fishermen don’t have to spend millions on studies to determine that snapper numbers along the coast of Texas are off-the-charts great.

“It’s really pretty sad,” says Beaumont’s John Blackwell, who has been fishing for snapper on the upper Texas coast for decades. “You can’t hardly stop and fish over some sort of structure out there and not have hundreds of red snapper come to the surface. That’s been the case for several years now. It’s really pathetic that we are allocated only three days to catch them in federal waters.”

“By any measure, the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico should be held up as a shining example of proper management and good conservation,” said Ray. “After decades under intense federal management, this is the best that anglers can hope for – a three-day season in federal waters in 2017. I don’t think anyone would declare the current situation a success. All we ask for is a system that allows all stakeholders the best opportunity to enjoy and use those resources. “

The 2017 season for private recreational anglers is the shortest on record, and at least one U.S. Senator wasted no time voicing his displeasure at the never-ending downward spiral of recreational fishing access under NOAA Fisheries.

“I am deeply troubled and disappointed with NOAA’s decision to considerably shorten the federal recreational fishing season for red snapper in the Gulf. NOAA’s announcement is unacceptable,” U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said in a news release. “NOAA’s rule is a significant step backward in our progress to increase limits for private anglers in federal waters. I look forward to working with President Trump and Commerce Secretary Ross to develop a system that actually serves the U.S. recreational fishing community.”

“Over the past year, a series of investigative newspaper articles and TV reports has highlighted the highly controversial schemes favored by NOAA Fisheries that give shares of red snapper away to commercial entities to use for their own profit,” said CCA in a news release. “Under these privatization programs, known as catch shares, almost three-quarters of the entire red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico is on the way to being privately held by commercial entities, further frustrating anglers who have watched their opportunity to pursue red snapper all but disappear under federal management.”

“With a three-day season and a federal system that seems committed to funneling access to our public marine resources to fewer and fewer people, there isn’t much for recreational anglers to work with under federal management as it currently operates,” said Bill Bird, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee.

Bird says that he is encouraging other elected officials to join him in his efforts to work with the Trump administration to chart a new course for the management of our marine resources.

The Southeast Fisheries Science Center conducts multi-disciplinary research programs to provide management information to support national and regional programs of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. 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, which are designed to manage fishery resources within the 200-mile limit of the Gulf of Mexico.

Want to make a comment on the new snapper regs? Here’s how. Go to www.gulfcouncil.org and click on the thermometer in the middle of the page. From there you can read up on all the pending actions, watch the video presentations, read comments, and submit your own. All comments submitted through the online form are automatically posted on the NOAA website for council review. Other comments are manually posted every couple of days.

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