Recreational fishermen should feel pretty good after coming through relatively unscathed from last week’s four-day Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting.
There are lingering issues, especially the continued battle over allocation of the annual recreational quota between private and for-hire subsectors, and the continued insistence by the Environmental Defense Fund and their cohorts that recreational fishermen “need” to have a lottery for tags to catch red snapper.
This continued wrangling among user groups and any and all deep-pocketed enviro groups over red snapper shouldn’t be new to Louisiana.
It happened 50 years ago over ducks. The disclaimer here is that Louisiana’s waterfowl biologists, headed then by the legendary Richard Yancey, didn’t have to deal with a commercial sector, because commercial duck hunting had been outlawed for years.
There were complicated duck issues, notably a three-year experiment with a special September teal season and data developed by Yancey and his limited crew that showed Louisiana hunters should have waterfowl-hunting zones.
Like today, Louisiana is the southern terminus of the Mississippi Flyway. The state’s waterfowl study group showed that our state was more than that. It was also a place ducks migrating south along the Central Flyway (into Texas) spread out in the marshes and other duck-holding spots in the state’s southwestern and western parishes.
The Mississippi Flyway migrants were more prone to spend their late fall and winter months in the ag fields in northeast parishes, the flooded timber and brakes along the Mississippi River and other smaller rivers in the eastern parishes, and in the vast Atchafalaya Basin and related marshes.
The three-year experiment on teal proved to be contentious. There was data showing Louisiana hunters taking nontargeted species during the teal season, mostly mottled ducks and some wood ducks. Mississippi Flyway’s northern states biologists raised their hackles when Yancey and others proposed continuing the special teal season. Reports then indicated folks at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were opposed to a permanent special teal season, too.
Yancey stuck to his guns, mostly because he believed the take of nontargeted ducks wasn’t all that harmful to overall duck populations, and that hunters’ take of teal didn’t produce the teal population declines some waterfowl biologists predicted.
When his fellow Mississippi Flyway biologists refused to back his proposal, Yancey was successful in removing Louisiana from the Flyway Council and left Louisiana to deal with the USFWS. Our state’s congressional delegation was then strong enough to make that happen. Yancey was able to reinstate a teal season, and except for a couple of years when the feds miscounted teal, there’s been a special teal season. The result was Louisiana hunters got better in reducing their nontargeted species take, and we all know that teal numbers today continue to thrive with populations more than 50 percent higher than the 51-year, long-term average. And Louisiana got its zones and split seasons, a move many other states have copied.
What the “duck wars” point out is that recreational anglers and groups representing them need to stay the course, and point to the fact that it’s not the GMFMC’s current commercial bent that’s going to prevail.
Ultimately, Congress is going to decide.