This continuous squabble over red snapper is the most confusing, contentious and confounding problem in more than 40 years of paying close attention to fishing, hunting and public access issues.
You know the latest: Reef Fish Amendment 40, the plan to divide the annual recreational red snapper quota among Gulf of Mexico private fishermen and charterboat operations, tells us several things about the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and its overseers in messy federal bureaucracy, that being the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is under the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which is in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Come on. Really? We need that many bureaucrats to manage fisheries issues?
Apparently so, because Congress and any of administrations during the past 20 years have allowed all this to remain in place. Worse yet, they allow this system to remain as dysfunctional as it has demonstrated — and the Gulf of Mexico isn’t the only management council under fire — despite the massive fix-it-please pleadings of recreational fishermen throughout the country.
Unless there is a dramatic change in the GMFMC’s makeup, the reality is A40 will be approved. With current quotas and the formula used to set recreational seasons, that approval will mean private recreational fishermen will be denied the right to catch red snapper in our Gulf’s federal waters.
Yes, there are enough votes among the 17-member GMFMC to approve A40. Political pressure from Florida and Alabama charter operations will assure two votes from those states’ state-appointed council reps. Add in the five commercial reps (one from each state) and that’s seven “yeas.” Then, three of the five “recreational” representatives (again, one from each state) are charterboat operators and that gives you 10 “yes” votes, more than enough to push A40 over the top.
All that comes for a species and in a fishery that is at least 10 years ahead of the federal recovery plan for Gulf of Mexico red snapper — at least that’s the case in the Gulf’s western waters.
Fact is we have more red snapper off the Louisiana coast than every old-time offshore fishermen can remember, so many that it appears red snapper are causing a decline in other offshore species.
About the only parallel that can be drawn today is how Congress and the Obama Administration are dealing with the debacle in the Veterans Administration. While there’s certainly no desire to equate any fisheries issue with the mishandling and lack of care given to our veterans, the fact that heads rolled at the VA should be a guide to taking care of what’s become the poster child for federal fisheries mismanagement, a plan that borders on abuse of recreational fishermen.
Heads should roll, too.