Red snapper management hearing tonight in Alabama

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A series of hearings regarding red snapper management in the Gulf region will take place throughout the month, with the first one set for this evening in Orange Beach, Ala., and the final one March 24 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council decided at its February meeting to move forward with an amendment to update the allocation of Gulf red snapper between commercial and recreational sectors.

The council approved sending Amendment 28 out for public hearings in all of the Gulf states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — and decided by a 9-6 vote to select a preferred alternative to current management.

The Coastal Conservation Association is asking recreational anglers and those in the industry to attend the meetings in person to show support for amending the way the fishery is managed for the first time in 30 years, although there is a way to submit comments online, as well.

Until now, the allocation rules had “been rusted shut because federal regulators don’t want to touch it,” Center for Coastal Conservation president Jeff Angers told Trade Only Today. “It is contentious because it's been that way since the 1980s and it would cause controversy to change it.”

The council’s preferred alternative was to leave in place the existing allocation — 51 percent to commercial and 49 percent to recreational — for the historical high quota of 9.12 million pounds between the two sectors. Everything beyond that would be distributed 75 percent recreational and 25 percent commercial, Angers explained.

Last year, several Gulf states faced a curtailed snapper season because of fears that recreational anglers had exceeded allotments. Those curtailments wrought economic havoc on businesses that depended on a certain time frame for snapper fishing, said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga.

“If you’re fishing for snapper and they cut you from 194 calendar days to 27 days — I haven’t been in for three years because my schedule just doesn’t let me go the month they decide to open it — but when they cut the season to 27 days of fishing, and the average person can go maybe three days if the weather’s right, how does somebody justify owning a boat, parking at a marina, paying dock fees and all of the expenses they incur for three or four days a year on the water?” Scott said.

“It has a tremendous negative economic impact on everyone, from boat dealers to marina owners to a person out there selling bait to people,” he said, adding that one of his boat dealer constituents said he went from $10 million in annual sales to $2 million because of shortened seasons.

States have clashed so vehemently with federal regulators on the topics that most states have chosen to ignore federal rules in the past, Angers said.

“When you have all five states and the governors of all five states saying this is a mess, please fix it, what I always say is, all of your friends are never wrong,” Angers said. “When everyone thinks there’s a problem, there’s a problem. And I think that’s been demonstrated by the unanimity of the outcries on this particular topic.”

The following meetings in the Gulf region all begin at 6 p.m.

• Today, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Orange Beach, Ala.

• Tuesday, Renaissance Riverview Plaza, Mobile, Ala.

• Wednesday, Holiday Inn Select, Panama City, Fla.

• Wednesday, Courtyard Marriott, Gulfport, Miss.

• Thursday, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Kenner, La.

• March 17, Hilton Garden Inn, Corpus Christi, Texas

• March 18, Embassy Suites, San Antonio, Texas

• March 19, Hilton Garden Inn, Webster, Texas

• March 20, webinar

• March 24, Hilton Carillon, St. Petersburg, Fla.

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