By Capt. Joe Kent
There has been a lot of press lately on the controversy surrounding the current regulations pertaining to the red snapper fishery in the Federal Waters of the Gulf of Mexico. For a number of years now the Gulf Council, which manages the fishery, has used a quota system to allocate the allotted catch which is measured in poundage between the commercial and recreational fishermen.
In the last year, the allocation has been further divided within the recreational sector, as two new categories are sharing that quota, those being the charter and party boats (for hire group) on one hand and the private recreational anglers on the other.
All three categories, commercial, charter and party boats and the private recreational angler have a designated time frame in which to catch their daily limits.
The commercial group is allowed to harvest red snapper year round, while the recreational groups have a specified limited number of days to fish. This year, the for hire group had 45 days, which ran from June 1 until July 16, while the private sector was allowed only 9 days from June 1 until June 9.
Disinterested parties looking at the quota allocations of 49.5 percent to the commercial group and 51.5 percent to the recreational anglers quickly ask: why is the recreational group upset? They are getting more than half of the allocation as shown in the Federal publications.
Well, if this group is allowed over 50 percent, why are they allowed only 9 days to take it. Think about it, for the many offshore anglers with smaller boats, June normally is a windy month, limiting the number of days that safe and comfortable access to the Gulf is feasible.
Another claim that I have difficulty with is that the council says that there are a very large number of recreational red snapper fishermen. My guess is that conclusion was drawn from samples in the 1990s when there were a lot of recreational anglers fishing offshore. The numbers have dropped significantly over the past 15 years.
While most recreational fishermen do not have any complaint about the commercial fishermen, most feel that they have been short changed in their allocation of time to fish by the Gulf Council.
All recreational fishermen, whether on a boat for hire or in their private boat, are limited to two red snapper per day during this time frame — with a minimum size of 16 inches.
As you can imagine, the private sector is quite upset about this discrimination and has become proactive in seeking a more equitable remedy.
Currently, there is a lot of political discourse taking place on both sides regarding a proposal that the management of the fishery be handed over to the individual states rather than the Federal Government, which has managed the resource since enactment of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
The commercial sector opposes any changes and understandably so, while the private group is seeking their fair share of the fish. If the recreational fishermen have over 50 percent allocated to them, how can they take that amount is such a short time frame?
One of the big arguments for the change is that the stocks of red snapper vary in different parts of the Gulf, thus making the state regulatory agencies better qualified to make decisions on the state of the fishery in the waters adjacent to their boundaries.
Like many other recreational anglers, I have fished for red snapper for many years, and over the past five years I have quit as a result of the regulations. Early on and to this day I feel that the fishery has not been managed as well as it should have been.
Poor sampling data by the Gulf Council along with a “hip-shot” approach to establishing the regulations resulted in a much longer span of time to bring the stocks back.
Today, most everyone agrees that the red snapper stocks are in excellent shape in the Gulf. The big problem is how those stocks are going to be effectively managed from here.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has a good track record in managing all of the fish within their jurisdiction, the State Waters of Texas. Could they also be effective in managing the fish in the adjacent Federal Waters? That is one of the controversial issues currently being debated by the two sides.