3-day red snapper season for anglers in Gulf's US waters
Illegally caught red snapper seized from a fishing boat. File photo.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Private recreational anglers went 25 percent over last year's quota for red snapper , and will have only three days to fish federal waters this year for one of the Gulf of Mexico's most popular sport and table fish, federal regulators said Tuesday.
Charter boat captains will have a 49-day season. Both seasons will start June 1.
"It's a disappointment to me to that we have made such gains in rebuilding this stock but the season's going to be this short," said Roy Crabtree, regional fisheries administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A big reason, he said, is that private anglers are expected to take 81 percent of their 3 million-pound (1.3-million kilogram) quota out of state waters, where seasons range from 66 days off Alabama to year-round off Texas.
That leaves little to be caught farther offshore in federal waters - and GPS units, electronic fish finders and other advancements have made anglers far more efficient than they used to be, Crabtree said.
State officials and politicians say the 3-day season just proves states should regulate the species.
"The red snapper fishery off the coast of Alabama is phenomenal. For NOAA Fisheries to allow our anglers only three days to harvest red snapper from federal waters is ridiculous and unjustifiable," said Alabama Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy, Jr.
Louisiana keeps accurate track of its catch and sets closing day when its limit is expected, so any excess had to be from other states, said Patrick Banks, assistant secretary for the state fisheries office. Last year, he said, the state went only 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) over its 1.1 million-pound (nearly 500,000 kilogram) goal.
Jamie Miller, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, noted that NOAA's recreational season was 194 days just 10 years ago. The short seasons make anglers compete against each other, forcing them "to fish offshore in less favorable and sometimes dangerous conditions," Miller said in a news release.
Red snapper have been a contentious issue for years.
Their numbers and size dropped precipitously in the 1980s. NOAA began limiting both the season and the total weight.
Commercial boats are allocated 51 percent of the total, with a separate quota for each boat. Once a boat hits that limit, it must stop taking red snapper. That has worked well, and helped the species recover.
"The total annual allotment of red snapper that everyone in the Gulf can catch, including recreational fishermen, has more than doubled over the last nine years," noted a nonprofit called Share the Gulf, which includes restaurateurs and fishing businesses.
But recreational fishing has regularly gone beyond its 49 percent share.
Each year's excess gets deducted from the next year's recreational quota.
As federal seasons shrank, states extended their seasons.
In 2015 NOAA fisheries split the recreational share between private anglers and federally licensed charter captains. Charter boats get three more days than last year because they caught less than their share, Crabtree said.
He said part of the excess is because Florida and Alabama extended their seasons last year after a 9-day federal season was set, and because Congress extended the state line for reef fish from three miles to nine miles (roughly 5 to 15 kilometers) off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. That change, which matched the boundaries for Florida and Texas, will expire May 4 unless it's renewed.
"We really didn't have a way to estimate how much the catch rates would go up ... and it appears to have made more difference than we thought, particularly off of Alabama, where the catches went up quite a bit," Crabtree said.
Chris Blankenship, deputy commissioner of Alabama's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said NOAA's own figures show less than 8 percent of the quota was caught off his state.