A 9-day Gulf of Mexico red snapper season is official, causing one veteran Mississippi Coastal fisherman who relishes snapper fishing to say it “O-Fish-Aly stinks!”
Under an emergency ruling in response to an April U.S. District Court decision in Washington, D.C., the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council announced Wednesday (May 14) that there would be a nine-day red snapper recreational season in federal waters.
The season will open at 12:01 a.m. June 1.
It will close at 12:01 A.M. June 10.
The daily creel limit is 2 per angler, with a 16-inch minimum total length.
“That’s just &^#*$%,” said Capt. James King of Biloxi, a part time hire-out skipper who referred to a common farm waste product in his colorful coastal Southern drawl. “For years, we have talked about how big a joke this snapper management has been at the federal level, and just when you didn’t think they could screw it up any worse, they sure as heck did.
“We now have a court in D.C., a judge or whatever, making fishery management decisions. We are now basing fish seasons, limits and quotas on court decisions. We have reached a level of ... of ... absolute absurdity, that is ... well, it is ... it’s ...”
King struggled to finish the sentence.
“It’s just wrong,” he finally said, before adding, “I quit. Change my resume to retired, at least where snapper are concerned. I am O-Fish-Aly out of the game.”
Wednesday’s ruling affects all of the Northern Gulf of Mexico in federal waters, but it hits two states really hard.
Mississippi is one of two Northern Gulf States caught in the tightest bind, along with neighboring Alabama.
Three others, Texas, Florida and Louisiana, all have state-specific red snapper seasons with enough coastal water to support those seasons. The feds call those non-compliant seasons.
The problem for Mississippi and Alabama, where shorelines are much smaller and deeper snapper habitat is practically non-existent in state waters, is that all snapper caught are counted against the entire Gulf’s recreational quota. That includes compliant and non-compliant seasons.
“I don’t blame those other states for having their own seasons, but I don’t have to like that it takes fish away from me,” said Randy Jackson of Gulfport. “They keep saying the snapper population is in trouble, and maybe it is. I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen any proof of it. Are the federal biologists, or should I say bureaucrat-ologists, that much smarter than biologists from the five states who don’t see a need for such restricted sport seasons?
“You asked me if I am frustrated, and that’s a stupid question. Of course I am frustrated, but it goes so much further than that. Frustrated isn’t adequate enough a word, really. I was frustrated 10 years ago, and I’ve been moving past that ever since.”
It has been a long, painful process in building that frustration, but the pace has quickened in recent years and then —Boom! — came 2014.
In 2013, recreational fishermen saw an increase in snapper opportunity, plus for the first time they saw a change, albeit slight, in attitude at the federal level involving catch data.
After initiating their own non-compliant season, Louisiana wildlife officials worked hard to show it could conduct dockside catch surveys to better track harvest rates and their numbers showed that the federal estimates were woefully high.
Federal officials admitted that there was merit, said they couldn’t dispute that they had overestimated the recreational impact, and opened up an additional fall season in federal waters. The recreational Gulf snapper seasons totaled 42 days in 2013.
For recreational anglers, the outlook for 2014 was bright and the Gulf season was projected at about 40 days. But then came the lawsuit.
To manage and rebuild snapper populations in the Gulf, there is a total harvest quota, which is divided between commercial and recreational fishermen.
Commercial fishermen representing all five Gulf Coast states filed a suit claiming that federal fishery management had increased the recreational quota last year without adequate accounting for harvest, and, furthermore, had been doing so for several years.
The court sided with the commercial fishermen, and in April the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council announced it would seek an emergency ruling allowing it to set an 11-day snapper season, producing a 20-percent buffer to insure that the 2014 recreational quota would not be exceeded.
The next day, Louisiana announced that it would expand its non-compliant season to year-round instead of a weekend-only 82-day season. To account for that additional catch in the total quota, it became obvious that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council would have to make a change.
It did that Wednesday, when it announced it was knocking the already-tight 11-day season down to nine days.
Mississippi’s Department of Marine Resources made no comment on Wednesday.
Alabama was not so quiet.
“Now that the federal red snapper season has been set at a ridiculously low nine days it reiterates the fallacy of the current federal management of this great fishery. This system cannot be tweaked or incrementally improved. It needs to be totally overhauled,” Alabama Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship said Wednesday morning.
He suggests canning the entire federal aspect and turning fishery management over to the states.
Blankenship is certainly right. The current system is broken and it cannot be fixed. It has removed biology from management and put it into the last place short of congress that it should ever be, a court of law.
It has created, at the very least, three impasses that will never be resolved and all likely to expand. We have:
Commercial fishermen vs. recreational fishermen.
Federal agencies and biologists vs. state agencies and biologists.
Compliant states vs. non-compliant states.
Yep, two decades into this “Oh-Fish-Al” mess, it is time to start over.