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Red Snapper Fishing in the Gulf -- Premises and Goals

Header Graphic of Bill Sargent, Mark Mansius, and John Gay, the Three Musketeers

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Red Snapper Fishing on the Gulf Coast
"Concluding Thoughts"

Editor’s Note:  The Three Musketeers have spent the last five weeks interviewing red snapper fishermen from all sectors. This is the final in the five part series which delves into some of the issues and possible solutions to the management of red snapper on the Gulf Coast.

March 24, 2017

Continuing from yesterday, the fourth goal suggested by some recreational fisherman is to consider levying royalties on all red snapper being caught in the U.S. waters of the Gulf.  Because they’re a natural resource of the United States such fees could apply to both the commercial and recreational sectors.  The fee could be established by the Gulf Coast states working in concert with NOAA.  Recreational fishermen could purchase red snapper permits as their royalty payment.

We support year-around fishing for the recreational sector including head boat and charter boat fishermen while avoiding “fish derbies” (“derbies” are where fishermen go out on the first day fearful that the allocation will be gone before they have an opportunity to fish).   There are several ways to accomplish this with pluses and minuses for each.

One way would be to issue reasonably priced fish tags.  With tags you avoid derby fishing and the reporting of actual fish catch from recreational fishing improves.  The downside is that given the current NOAA allocation there might not be enough fish tags to go around. 
Another way would be to limit the number of trips recreational fishermen make during a year and assign a reasonable catch limit for each trip.  Having a two fish bag limit is two small to make a trip worthwhile.  The bag limit needs to be at least five fish in order to make going worth the effort.

At the heart of this issue is NOAA’s inability to get accurate catch numbers and an ability to determine the size of the fishery.  Recreational fishermen can help in this by reporting their landings.  Several commercial fishermen suggested, if there was a better assessment of the fishery the split between commercial and recreational fishermen could eventually be adjusted to as much as 30% commercial and 70% recreational and still protect the commercial sector while increasing the allowance to the sports fishermen.

The goal is to give ALL the red snapper fishermen the ability to go when they want to fish and not cramming them into a nine day window when conditions in the Gulf are not necessarily conducive to safely fish. 

We’ve also been told a large number of red snapper that are caught are below allowable size limits and thrown back in the water, essentially become dolphin/shark bait.  This happens in both the commercial and recreational sectors.   Some conservationists have suggested that “descending devices” and “venting tools” be utilized in order to save the smaller fish.  As it is, red snapper that are thrown back in the water are unable to get back down to the depths where they live and essentially experience what humans call the bends.  It has been suggested making the use of descending devices (which cost about $50) mandatory would help protect the fishery in the long run.

Final observation:  The President should ensure he doesn’t nominate those who will follow the example of previous NOAA fisheries administrators who many feel placed undue burdens on red snapper fishermen.

We understand the contentious nature of the multifaceted red snapper issue.  Not being fishermen ourselves, we don’t claim to have all the answers. Our hope is that this series of articles will stimulate further discussion and bring those who are seeking real and reasonable solutions and common ground, closer together for the benefit of all and of the fishery itself. 

Bill and Mark and John

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