Sen. Mary Landrieu calls for change after feds set 9-day red snapper season _lowres

Advocate file photo by JOE MACALUSO The federal red snapper season dates were finalized Wednesday, and shortened to a nine-day season in federal waters.

Once again, when it comes to catching red snapper, recreational fishermen get the short end of the stick.

Friday, NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that controls red snapper allocations, gave recreational fishermen a short, 10-day season: 2015’s “formal” season is set to open at 12:01 a.m. June 1 and run through 12:01 a.m. June 11.

Whoa! That’s a mistake. Now, the term “recreational fisherman” doesn’t work for NOAA Fisheries, nor for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Today, and for the next three years, the correct term is “private anglers.”

That came after the GMFMC passed, and the federal folks approved, a move to divide the annual recreational red snapper quota into “private anglers” and “charterboat/for-hire” sectors with “private anglers” getting 57 percent of the annual quota and the charter business interests along the Gulf Coast getting 43 percent. By now, longtime Wild Side readers know the recreational side gets 49 percent of the total allowable red snapper take with 51 percent going to commercial fishing businesses.

With Texas and Louisiana leading the charge to set red snapper seasons in their respective state waters, it means this division in the recreational sector cost recreational fishermen as many as seven days from a season that could have run as long as 17 days. That came from a GMFMC news release in early April.

With their new 43 percent, the “for-hire” fishing business, composed mostly of Florida and Alabama operations, will get 44 days according to Friday’s announcement.

So last year the recreational sector had a nine-day season. But the total allowable catch for red snapper went up from 11 million pounds in 2014 to 14.3 million pounds for this year, a population status increase for red snapper that pushed the recreational quota up 5.39 million pounds last year to 7.01 million pounds this year.

So, after recreational groups worked for years to get the feds to upgrade the red snapper population data, “private anglers” will get one additional day. Oh boy!

There was some good news coming from Capital Hill last week when the House Committee on Natural Resources approved several changes in the reauthorization of the nation’s fishery policy law.

The major change approved Thursday calls for the GMFMC and the same council governing South Atlantic fisheries to review quota allocations for all species that have commercial and recreational components. A proposed amendment to allow the five Gulf states to manage fish in federal waters failed by a 22-16 vote.

What all this means is there’s still lots of work to do to get councils and federal managers to recognize the importance of recreational fishing in managing fish and for the economies of many more communities that serve “private anglers.”