Red snapper is the most mismanaged fish in this country. Constantly shifting seasons and regulations, shortened seasons despite obvious abundance, lawsuits, yelling matches between different user groups and several other examples of absurd decisions are constant.

Advocate outdoors writer Joe Macaluso highlighted this insanity in his May 3 column. The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, guided by NOAA, announced this year’s federal waters red snapper season would be just 10 days for anglers fishing from their own boats but 44 days for those anglers who want to pay one of the 1,300 federally permitted charter captains. That’s right. Those who want to fish out of their own boat in public waters can do that for just 10 days. But, if those same fishermen want to pay a charter captain to take them to the same public waters to catch the same public fish, they can go 44 days.

That approach, called “sector separation” is new for this year and has prompted a lawsuit because dividing recreational management clearly conflicts with federal law, another point Macaluso wrote about recently.

Despite strong public opposition, sector separation is supported by a small group of charter captains, commercial fishermen and a host of environmental organizations determined to restrict the public’s access to the fish.

My business selling fishing tackle has suffered from all this divisiveness. The more confusing the rules and the more the federal government and environmentalists manage our fish, the harder it is to keep my small business open. Tackle dealers, marinas, bait shops and small-operation charter fishermen across the Gulf are in my same position.

I consider many charter captains dear friends. They are important friends and clients, and I try very hard to promote their businesses as much as I can. My criticism is not of them but of the environmentalists who have shamelessly and unnecessarily come to our region to create conflicts and turn fishing friends against each other and the federal fisheries managers who have encouraged those conflicts.

Recreational fishermen who don’t target red snapper often tell me it’s not their fight. Dangerous thinking because this starts with red snapper, but who knows where it ends?

At a recent meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee in Washington, congressman on both sides of the aisle talked about how frustrated they are with constantly dealing with red snapper, yet failed to approve an amendment offered by Rep. Garret Graves that would have helped fix the problem. Talk is not enough. Time is now to turn that frustration into a management system that works for all involved. The future of recreational fishing in the Gulf and small businesses across our region depend on it.

Mark Mathews

fishing tackle retailer

Baton Rouge