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Red Snapper (Reprise)

July 24, 2017

Last week the Daily News ran a story on environmental groups suing the Commerce Department over its decision to extend the Red Snapper fishing season (July 18, 2017 “Conservation groups sue feds over red snapper rule”).  The following statement by one environmentalist flies in the face of what Gulf Coast fishermen are seeing:

“Data indicates by extending the season 39 days this summer, the rebuilding efforts for red snapper fisheries could be set back as much as six years,” Chris Dorsett, of Ocean Conservancy said.

But when we interviewed commercial and recreational fishermen they told us the size of the red snapper fish they’re catching was getting bigger and bigger.  All those we talked with said the estimate of how big the fishery is, are at least two times bigger than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Marine and Fisheries Service (NOAA/NMFS) is saying and some believe it could be three to five times larger.  Experts in fish management agree the data used by NOAA/NMFS is inaccurate.   Actually, fishermen who are seeking amberjack tell us the red snapper are so plentiful they go after their bait making it harder to land amberjack.

So why is this important?  If the data is bogus, then the amount of fish the commercial and recreational sectors are allowed to catch is too restrictive.  Earlier this year NOAA/NMFS told recreational fishermen they could only fish for three days in federal waters!  That’s a joke, and a bad joke at that!

While all want to protect the fishery and to have a viable source of red snapper for future generations, some "environmentalists" would like to shut down recreational red snapper fishing.

It’s important to keep our eye on the ball. Extending the fishing season, although a step in the right direction, is just one small step.  In order to get a long-term and viable solution several things need to happen and that will take dedicated congressional leadership to accomplish.  Here's our list:

  • Get the data right.  Without accurate data on how big the fishery actually is; reasonable decisions can't be made.
  • Turn the management of the red snapper fishery over to the Gulf Coast state agencies (here in Texas the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service).  These agencies have a proven management track record and we believe fishing in federal waters should be placed in their hands.
  • If the data supports doing so, increase the bag limit.  Currently you can catch four red snapper in state waters but only two in federal waters.  This creates two sets of rules depending on how far off shore you go.  Have the same bag/catch limit in all waters out to the 200 mile limit.

Based on what we are hearing, from local fishermen and fishery experts alike, the claim that expanding the fishing season from three to thirty-nine days will set back the rebuilding of the red snapper fishery for six years is as bogus as the inaccurate data NOAA/NMFS is currently using.  It is time to get it right.  Let’s get it done!

Bill, Mark and John

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