Shortened red snapper fishing season angers industry

The Gulf region red snapper recreational fishing season came to a close one minute after midnight today after being open for just nine days.

“The current situation with Gulf red snapper is truly disheartening,” Yamaha Marine president Ben Speciale told Trade Only Today. “Having experienced this season being shortened from 40 days to 11, and now just nine days, shows the extent to which the current management system is broken.”

Speciale said the vastly reduced season, which started at 12:01 a.m. on June 1 and ended at 12:01 a.m. today, should be a call for advocacy efforts on the part of the entire recreational boating and fishing industry, regardless of location.

“It may be true that the red snapper issue disproportionately affects anglers in the Gulf region, but this issue may very well serve as a precursor for the federal management strategy for fisheries across the country,” Speciale said in an email.

“It opened on the 1st and closes on the 10th, so the 4 million Gulf Coast recreational fishermen have had nine days to fish the filet mignon of the sea,” agreed Center for Coastal Conservation president Jeff Angers, who spoke with Trade Only Friday afternoon following a disappointing House bill addressing fishery management legislation.

“And in the early part of [last] week, we had 6-foot seas. When I was a young skinny college kid, I’d run out there in 6-foot seas, but now I’m a fat 50-year-old. I’m not going out there.”

The Gulf region’s National Marine Fisheries Service council had made moves early this year to reassess the allocation among commercial and recreational anglers, but a U.S. District Court judge ruled March 27 that the federal government had violated the law by failing to properly manage the fishery.

The decision sided with commercial fishermen, who argued in the lawsuit that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the law by not implementing accountability measures to prevent recreational fishermen from consistently exceeding their annual quota, as they’d done in six of the previous seven years.

The D.C. court’s decision forced the council to approve an emergency action in May to reduce the season from the 40 days expected for the 2014 season.

Red snapper in the Gulf and South Atlantic are examples of two fisheries that are “both mismanaged beyond recognition,” Angers said.

It has been 30 years since this allocation was last set, and Angers predicted stiff opposition from the commercial fishing industry, restaurant associations and environmental groups.

The allocation rules have “been rusted shut because federal regulators don’t want to touch it. It is contentious because it’s been that way since the 1980s, and it would cause controversy,” Angers told Trade Only earlier this year.

That’s one of the major criticisms the recreational industry has of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law governing fishery management that is up for reauthorization.

“It is our hope that the red snapper issue and others like it will be resolved in the upcoming reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens,” Speciale said today. “However, we must as an industry keep the pressure on Congress regarding this issue. Dealers and boatbuilders everywhere need to advocate for the red snapper legislation” from Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

Reassessing allocation “is something we see in the Senate draft of Magnuson, but I was particularly disappointed to see it omitted from the House draft,” Angers said Friday. “I’m hopeful we can work with our Congress to get it back in.”

The preferred alternative for recreational anglers was to leave in place the existing 51-49 for the historical high quota of 9 million pounds between the two sectors. Everything beyond the 9 million pounds, the historical high, would be distributed 75 percent recreational and 25 percent commercial, Angers explained.

Last year’s curtailed fishing season wrought economic havoc on businesses that depended on a certain time frame for snapper fishing, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., told Trade Only earlier this year.

“If you’re fishing for snapper and they cut you from 194 calendar days to 27 days 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 asked.

“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 went from $10 million in annual sales to $2 million because of shortened seasons.


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