After what happened last week in Mobile, Alabama, there will be no easy solutions for the problems recreational fishermen are facing when it comes to fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Thursday’s 10-7 vote to approve Reef Fish Amendment 40 proves the 17-member Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is being controlled by a group or groups determined to eliminate the recreational fishing component from the business of managing fish off the coasts of the five Gulf states.
Here’s why: The vote came after repeated pleas from Gulf recreational fishermen to reject the move, and after last week’s written appeals signed by the five Gulf states’ governors and the 300 congressmen and senators in the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus to reconsider this plan.
It’s apparent that didn’t turn the heads or the minds of 10 council members.
Former council chairman Doug Boyd of Texas told several attendees at last week’s Saltwater Media Summit in Cape Coral, Florida, that federal staffers refused to give him the outcome from the series of public comments on Amendment 40 held during the late summer across the coast.
It’s gets worse. While there were other more recreationally favorable amendments awaiting debate, “40” was put on a fast track, and with the approval of the council’s federally appointed overseer, Roy Crabtree, this move to separate a red snapper quota for charterboat operations from the annual federally mandated recreational take was allowed to move faster than any other reef-fish debate in council history.
And, the amendment’s approval happened despite all parties knowing recreational fishermen could face a closed red snapper season.
Even worse, it took less than one year to get “40” to a final vote, while reallocation of the red snapper resource — the council’s reallocation review between user groups is required under federal law — has been sitting in front of Crabtree and the council for more than two years. Under the latest reallocation proposal, the council approved a plan that would give recreational fishermen 75 percent of the red snapper quota over 11 million pounds (25 percent to commercial operations). Current rules allow commercials 51 percent and recreationals 49 percent of the red snapper quota. The issue remains unresolved.
Worse yet is that a plan that would shift a reef-fish management from this federal council to the states has been sitting on the council’s stove for more than two years and remains in the discussion stages. This “regional management” concept would allow each state to better allocate quotas and seasons for and on reef fish to each state’s user groups.
There is no other way to analyze this move other than to believe recreational fishermen will have to come out fighting for their future in the Gulf of Mexico. And this will be a very ugly fight.