It was just one item among the 15 for Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting, but for Louisiana’s offshore fishermen, the “Update on Red Snapper & the LaCreel Survey” simply is more fuel to the fire in our state’s continuing discussion with federal agencies to manage fish stocks.
When boiled down, this too-long battle over ever-shortened recreational red snapper seasons comes down to statistics, data compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service that relates to, first, how many red snapper live in the Gulf of Mexico, and, second, how many of them, and when, recreational fishermen can take from Gulf waters.
It’s no secret federal managers stand pat on what’s widely known to be an archaic method in determining the red snapper population, especially the well-recovered numbers of red snapper in the western Gulf, and especially off our coast.
And it’s no secret that federal data shows recreational fishermen exceed their total allowable most seasons in the past 10 years. Those numbers come from the Marine Recreational Information Program.
A couple of years ago, Louisiana began its push for regional management of offshore fish species — a move that would give each of the five Gulf states direct control over seasons and landings from Gulf waters — our state’s Marine Fisheries Section folks understood only too well that better data was needed.
That’s when LaCreel was spawned, and LDWF assistant secretary Randy Pausina turned to retired biologist Joey Shepard to head this ground-breaking program.
Shepard presented LaCreel data Thursday, noting that the first objective was to present real-time numbers when it came to landings of many more species than red snapper, namely reef fish (snapper among them) and other offshore species that falls under the state’s new Louisiana’s Recreational Offshore Landing Permit system.
Shepard and his crew knew the ROLP would yield catch information much more quickly than the feds’ MRIP, the latter procedure that produces numbers many months after the end of targeted periods like this year’s nine-day red snapper season. He added that LaCreel yields weekly, not annual, catch numbers and gives more precise data each from private and the for-hire/charterboat efforts.
LaCreel showed our state’s red snapper fishermen are on target to take their annual catch, an average for Louisiana that’s about 14 percent of the total annual recreational red snapper catch — something around 750,000 pounds — despite the cries from the feds that our year-round red snapper season in state waters would send us way over that limit.
All we need now is for the feds to embrace LaCreel numbers and give us the ability to manage what we know is off our state’s coast.
Is that too much to ask? If it is, why? We don’t need to wait months for an answer.