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Red Snapper: The Bottom Line
Published November 1, 2017
Bill Sargent testifying before the Senate State Affairs Committee in Austin, Texas

I read with interest the column by “Bubba” Cochrane. (“Why local fishermen support the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” The Daily News, Oct. 25).  His views are not surprising since, as a commercial fisherman, his right to fish for red snapper any time he wants in federal waters is protected by the allocation given to him by the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Unfortunately, the recreational fishermen don’t have the same freedom, guarantees and protections.

Earlier this year the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) allocated the recreational fishermen only three days of red snapper fishing in federal waters; what a (bad) joke that was!  With Congressman Graves (R-LA) leading the charge he was able to get the season expanded, but to the chagrin of non-recreational fishermen who claimed the expanded recreational fishing season would push back fishery recovery efforts.

In his column Mr. Cochrane talked about basing the allocation for red snapper fishing on “science-based management.”  The problem is the key to a well-managed red snapper fishery is accurate data; data which seems to have eluded NMFS.  The Fisheries Service's data doesn’t line up with what fishermen are seeing in the Gulf.   What they are telling me is there are so many red snapper out there it’s hard to catch anything else!

What I suggested earlier this year, as one of the Three Musketeers, was that we turn over the management of the red snapper fishery to the five Gulf Coast States.  They have a proven track record for managing the fisheries under their jurisdictions.  They have also demonstrated an ability to get accurate data on the size of their fisheries.

Everybody wants to protect the red snapper fishery.  It is a national treasure and a resource that needs to be well-managed and protected.  So here are a couple of ideas to consider:

  • Red snapper is a deep water fish and when fishermen catch snapper that are not large enough to keep they throw them back in the water.  Unfortunately those thrown overboard typically die because they cannot make it safely back to their deep water habitat.  This has a major impact on the fishery given the number of red snapper being killed, but not harvested, by the commercial fishermen.  So what if you did away with the size limit for the commercial sector and required that all red snapper caught be part of their IFQ
  • When people cut timber off of federal lands or drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico they pay the U.S. government a royalty.  Is commercial harvesting of red snapper any different?   Why not consider charging a reasonable royalty based upon the commercial fisherman’s allocation?  Recreational fisherman, likewise, might pay for a small royalty fee when they get their annual salt water fishing license.
The bottom line:  We must get accurate data on the size of the fishery and find solutions that are fair and equitable to the recreational and commercial fishermen.