Archived Story

Red Snapper season turmoil continues

Published 11:41am Monday, February 25, 2013

Whether Gulf Coast anglers get the proposed 27-day red snapper season, the shortest in history, remains to be seen. It could get a little better, but it also could get a whole lot worse.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) currently projects anglers, who are increasingly catching bigger and bigger snapper, will reach their recreational quota of 4.145 million pounds in less than a month.
State waters extend nine miles from the coasts in Texas and Florida, while Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have a three-mile boundary. Louisiana has petitioned the courts to extend its boundary to more than 10 miles (three marine leagues), but the courts have rebuffed the effort at this point. Texas has not amended its rules for state waters to coincide with federal regulations for years.
Now, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission has voted to open its state waters from March 24 through September for weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) only with a daily bag limit of three fish with a minimum length of 16 inches.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) proposed a 44-day recreational season for state waters from June 1 through July 14. The FWC will make a final decision on the red snapper season at its April meeting.
Dr. Roy Crabtree, NMFS’s Southeast Regional Administrator, realized the repercussions of the rebellion and introduced a motion for an emergency rule to deal with states in noncompliance. The first vote failed, but Crabtree ‘sthe original motion was reconsidered and passed by a 9-7 margin despite rigorous opposition from Texas and Louisiana. Chris Blankenship, Alabama Marine Resources Director, said had the emergency rule not passed it could have had devastating effects on the Alabama snapper season.
“Having some consequences for those states in noncompliance is good for the fishermen in Alabama,” Blankenship said. “With Texas having a full season for years, all that factors into the quota, and that has cost Alabama fishermen days in the past.”
Dr. Bob Shipp, who sits on the Gulf council, said noncompliance by Florida would have a much greater effect on the snapper season than noncompliance by Louisiana or Texas.
“If Florida goes noncompliant, it’s a different ball game,” Shipp said.
Through his numerous research trips into the Gulf, Shipp is convinced the projections by the NMFS computer models do not reflect the actual status of red snapper.
“I’m totally convinced that we’re not in a rebuilding phase,” he said. “We’ve gone far beyond rebuilding, far beyond historical levels, but that’s because we’ve created so much habitat.”
Marcus Kennedy, an avid recreational fisherman from Mobile, may have summarized it best when he said a complete generation of future fishermen is on the verge of being lost due to overregulation.
“Red snapper are the bread and butter of our near-shore saltwater fishing experience,” Kennedy said. I have the experience, equipment, time, money, and expertise to target other species year round, but a great majority of fishermen are not like me. We must have at least six months of access to red snapper here to have any hope for the future.”
Rainer is a outdoors columnist for The Outlook.Whether Gulf Coast anglers get the proposed 27-day red snapper season, the shortest in history, remains to be seen. It could get a little better, but it also could get a whole lot worse.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) currently projects anglers, who are increasingly catching bigger and bigger snapper, will reach their recreational quota of 4.145 million pounds in less than a month.
State waters extend nine miles from the coasts in Texas and Florida, while Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have a three-mile boundary. Louisiana has petitioned the courts to extend its boundary to more than 10 miles (three marine leagues), but the courts have rebuffed the effort at this point. Texas has not amended its rules for state waters to coincide with federal regulations for years.
Now, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission has voted to open its state waters from March 24 through September for weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) only with a daily bag limit of three fish with a minimum length of 16 inches.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) proposed a 44-day recreational season for state waters from June 1 through July 14. The FWC will make a final decision on the red snapper season at its April meeting.
Dr. Roy Crabtree, NMFS’s Southeast Regional Administrator, realized the repercussions of the rebellion and introduced a motion for an emergency rule to deal with states in noncompliance. The first vote failed, but Crabtree ‘sthe original motion was reconsidered and passed by a 9-7 margin despite rigorous opposition from Texas and Louisiana. Chris Blankenship, Alabama Marine Resources Director, said had the emergency rule not passed it could have had devastating effects on the Alabama snapper season.
“Having some consequences for those states in noncompliance is good for the fishermen in Alabama,” Blankenship said. “With Texas having a full season for years, all that factors into the quota, and that has cost Alabama fishermen days in the past.”
Dr. Bob Shipp, who sits on the Gulf council, said noncompliance by Florida would have a much greater effect on the snapper season than noncompliance by Louisiana or Texas.
“If Florida goes noncompliant, it’s a different ball game,” Shipp said.
Through his numerous research trips into the Gulf, Shipp is convinced the projections by the NMFS computer models do not reflect the actual status of red snapper.
“I’m totally convinced that we’re not in a rebuilding phase,” he said. “We’ve gone far beyond rebuilding, far beyond historical levels, but that’s because we’ve created so much habitat.”
Marcus Kennedy, an avid recreational fisherman from Mobile, may have summarized it best when he said a complete generation of future fishermen is on the verge of being lost due to overregulation.
“Red snapper are the bread and butter of our near-shore saltwater fishing experience,” Kennedy said. I have the experience, equipment, time, money, and expertise to target other species year round, but a great majority of fishermen are not like me. We must have at least six months of access to red snapper here to have any hope for the future.”
Rainer is a outdoors columnist for The Outlook.