Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Red Snapper Season Rescued

By Duwayne Escobedo

The federal government added 39 days for recreational anglers to fish for red snapper this summer.

Previously, it gave them only three days to catch the Gulf of Mexico’s signature fish, which is prized among recreational fishermen, restaurants and seafood markets. That was a week less than last year’s season.

But don’t expect charter boat captains, who capitalize from fishing trips for the popular fish, to break out in cheers and jump up and down with joy.

“A lot of people think charter boats are mad about it,” said Capt. Jim Green. “We’re not. We just want a sustainable management plan so our anglers can enjoy future years of red snapper fishing.”

That’s right, said Green, those who make their living in the fishing industry are just as concerned about the red snapper population as federal regulators. Green is a third-generation fisherman in Destin, Fla., and vice president of the Charter Fisherman’s Association that stretches from Florida to Texas.

The season resumed this past weekend. It gives recreational red snapper aficionados the opportunity to fish Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, plus July 3 and July 4 during the Fourth of July holiday and Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 4.

The extension applies only to recreational fishing and not commercial fishing. It’s the first time in a decade that federal authorities and the five Gulf States (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) have agreed to align federal and state private angler red snapper fishing seasons.

A Significant Step
The agreement reached with the Secretary of Commerce is a major step forward in building a new federal-state partnership in managing the Gulf of Mexico red snapper stock. The decision represents a commitment from the states to restore a shared vision of uniform management that will benefit the long-term recovery of the red snapper while maximizing the economic benefits from recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico region.

Also, the five Gulf States agreed to bring their state water seasons for red snapper in line with the federal water season for the remainder of the summer.

But the federal rules remain the same as far as quotas and the length of the fish that can be caught. Red snapper can grow up to 40 inches, weigh up to 50 pounds and live more than 50 years.

Kellie Ralston, who’s the Florida Policy Director for the American Sports Fishing Association, praised the new ruling.

“We have some great news,” Ralston said. “It’s a great opportunity for folks, and we’re so appreciative of the state of Florida’s efforts at the DOC, our Congressional delegation, and also all those folks that made it happen at the Secretary of Commerce level.”

In Florida, the sports fishing industry is big business. It brings in about $9.6 billion dollars and supports more than 125,000 jobs statewide. Florida totals more than 3 million anglers, who are either visiting or are state residents.

“Men and women across the Gulf Coast were outraged at the three-day red snapper season, and so was I,” said U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz in a statement. “The Gulf of Mexico makes Northwest Florida a world-class destination for recreational anglers. Local folks wanted me to fight for their right to fish, and I was happy to help.”

U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio wrote a joint letter asking for more flexibility in the red snapper season to Benjamin Friedman, the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Florida’s senators pointed out it “contributes valuable tourism revenue.” Plus, they argued that setting a “rigid fishing season of consecutive days may put anglers in harm’s way due to Florida’s unpredictable and frequent summer storms.”

More Needed
During the extended season, the current health and overall sustainability of the red snapper stock, which has flourished in recent years, would continue to be monitored.

Green said he would like to see the federal government mandate recreational red snapper anglers begin reporting their hauls as commercial fishermen do. Currently, no reporting rules exist for private fishermen, which makes it harder to keep track of the red snapper population.

“We have to have all stakeholders involved in the process,” Green said. “The fish are key. We can get something everybody can live with.”

Ralston agreed with Green about the need for a more accurate metrics. She said fishery management officials must now guess how many pounds recreational anglers catch.

“It’s a great solution for right now, but we need to kind of look down the road to 2018 and beyond and how we can tweak that system to make sure that we have those fish there for folks and also be able to get them out there to fish for them,” she said.

In April, Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va) filed the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017.” The Modern Fish Act seeks to improve public access to America’s federal waters, promote conservation of our natural marine resources and spur economic growth.

“On behalf of America’s 11 million saltwater anglers, we thank Congressmen Graves, Green, Webster, and Wittman for championing this legislation to modernize federal recreational fishing management,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy, in a press release.

“For decades, the recreational fishing community has been subjected to antiquated federal policies not designed to manage recreational fishing,” Angers continued. “The time is now to update these policies so families can fully enjoy our nation’s remarkable marine resources and continue a proud American tradition on the water.”

The Modern Fish Act addresses many of the recreational fishing community’s priorities including allowing alternative management for recreational fishing, reexamining fisheries allocations, smartly rebuilding fishery stocks, establishing exemptions where annual catch limits don’t fit and improving recreational data collection. The bill aims to benefit fishing access and conservation by incorporating modern management approaches, science, and technology to guide decision-making.

The coalition of groups supporting the Modern Fish Act includes American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, The Billfish Foundation and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

If federal and state officials experience success with adding flexibility to the red snapper season, Ralston said, new similar laws may be forthcoming to manage amberjack, gray triggerfish, cobia and some other species in danger of over-fishing.

“They haven’t quite risen to the level of controversy as red snapper, but they are on the horizon there,” Ralston said. “So, we want to come up with some better ways to address this problem, so we don’t end up (with other fish species) in the same place.”