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Fishing on the
Gulf Coast
The Red Snapper Issue
(Part 3)
Three Musketeers - Bill Sargent, Mark Mansius, and John Gay
Bill Sargent, Mark Mansius, and John Gay all ran for Congress in the 2012 Republican Primary. They became friends and have been writing weekly columns for the Galveston County Daily News since May 2013.

Red Snapper breaks the surface of the Gulf waters off the Texas coastEditor’s Note:  The Three Musketeers have spent the last five weeks interviewing red snapper fishermen from all sectors. This is the third in a five part series which delves into some of the issues and possible solutions to the management of red snapper on the Gulf Coast

March 22, 2017

Yesterday we discussed NOAA’s apparent flawed assessment of the red snapper fishery.  If their data is faulty then it stands to reason the total amount of fish NOAA is allowing to be caught is also significantly too small. 

There are a number of possible ways to improve this data.  One suggestion is to count and weigh all the fish being caught.  This information for the commercial and head boat sectors appears to be very accurate.  But on the recreational side not all states require reporting, making this data elusive.

Currently some states use the number of recreational red snapper fishing trips to estimate fish counts.  Even this method is yielding a significantly larger fishery assessment than NOAA’s.  The bottom line is that all agree some way must be found to get accurate data.  One proposal is to have the states collect the data in both state and federal waters with an enforcement moratorium for up to three years.  It has been suggested that during this time stiff penalties could be levied against those who fail to report actual catch data – the goal being to improve the reporting and thereby improving the data needed to assess the health of the fishery.

Now let’s look at the recreational sector of the fishery.  These fishermen either own their own boats, tackle, etc.; hitch a ride on a friend’s boat; or they purchase space on a “Head Boat” that provides what one angler described as a “sea going taxi service” that takes as many as sixty anglers fishing at a time.

While the commercial fishermen were moving to the IFQ system, the recreational fishermen were forced by NOAA from year-round fishing with a seven fish bag limit two decades ago to 194 days and a four fish bag limit in the 2000-2007 timeframe.  In the 2000s fisherman were seeing an increase in the size of red snapper they caught – a sure sign the red snapper fishery was rebounding.  Still, by 2016 NOAA cut the recreational red snapper season to nine days with a two fish limit.  Strangely NOAA starts the fishing season on June 1st, which is typically a time of poor weather in the western Gulf of Mexico and right in the middle of the red snapper spawning season. One angler commented, “If NOAA really wanted to replenish the red snapper population you’d think they’d schedule the season after the spawning season!”

Meanwhile the recreational fishermen are telling us, even with a year-round season, most of them would only go red snapper fishing two or three times a year.  Here in Galveston it takes about three hours to get to where these fish are and only a matter of minutes to catch the two fish limit!

Legislation seeking to increase the length of the recreational season for a year or two is like placing a band aid on the problem.  Fishermen understand that the real solution lies in improving the data on -- and management of -- the fishery, increasing the overall allocation, and in increasing the allowable fish catch limits for recreational fishermen.
 
Even anglers who can go out on a Head Boat for a 46 day season are still restricted to the two fish limit.  Meanwhile Head Boat owners are saying they need to fish for other kinds of fish because of needless and egregious federal limitations placed on red snapper fishing.

Tomorrow, the story continues!

Bill and Mark and John