A Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (Council) plan to divide recreational fishing — and its quota of red snapper  — into segments is drawing vehement opposition from both private and charter fishermen on the Mississippi Coast.

The Council has a meeting on its “Reef Fishing Amendment 40: Sector Separation” scheduled Tuesday night from 6-9 p.m. at Courtyard by Marriott at 1600 Beach Boulevard in Gulfport. 

According to the Council’s meeting brochure, “Reef Fish Amendment 40 considers separating the recreational sector into two distinct components; a private angling component and a federal for-hire component. Red snapper resources would then be allocated between these components.”

In defining “federal for-hire component,” the Council included boats with valid or renewable federal reef-fish permits. No such permits have been issued since a moratorium was put in place in 2004.

Johnny Marquez, executive director of Mississippi Coastal Conservation Association, a private organization representing sport fishing, expects there to be a crowd and a lot of opposition.

“Quite lively,” was his prediction.

“CCA is vehemently opposed to the privatization of our public fisheries, and the concept of giving a public resource to private entities,” said Marquez. “That is what the Council’s Amendment would essentially do, divide the recreational quota in half and give 25 percent of the total harvest (half of the recreational harvest) to federally permitted charter boats based on their catch history.”

Even the Mississippi Charter Boat Captains Association is strongly opposed, according to its president, Tom Becker.

“We are definitely against it, strongly so,” said Becker, who is now retired from the water but still actively involved in the charter industry he loved for so long. “The whole thing stinks of environmental defense groups trying to get their foot in the door in the Gulf fisheries management and begin going after IFQs (individual fishing quotas), and once that happens you start seeing the guys with the most money getting all the permits.”

Becker, who also serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Charter Boat Operators, said his peers in Alaska are warning charter captains against the establishment of IFQs.

“They said, ‘guys, whatever you do, don’t let that get started down there,’ and it was based on what happened to them with halibut fishing,” Becker said. “They ended up in a situation where the charter boats ended up with a one fish per day limit, while private fishermen could get two.

“Plus, I just don’t see how letting them get a foot in the door in Gulf of Mexico fisheries management can be a good thing. I can see where it could become a picking and choosing of who gets what when it comes to fish.”

Keeping that door closed, Becker said, is important to the Mississippi Charter Boat Association even though only a small percent of its members still target snapper.

“Our main fish is the red drum, not the red snapper,” he said. “But keeping the IQF component out of the Gulf is important because once they get going, where do they stop?” 

Marquez fears Amendment 40 would lead to a consolidation of the charter industry, “increasing prices and reducing fishing opportunities for recreational anglers.”

The Coastal Conservation Association has spearheaded the Gulf-wide opposition to Amendment 40, asking members to attend and speak out at the Council’s series of meeting. Tuesday’s meeting in Gulfport is the last of eight meetings held this month from Texas to Florida.

Warns the CCA on its Website:

“The concept has been cast as a reasonable response to a broken federal management system, but it is a perilous development for recreational angling as it represents a huge step in the privatization of our fisheries. Amendment 40 has only been promoted by commercial fishermen and a very select few charter/for-hire operators. It is a misguided response to a broken federal management system that delivered a nine-day recreational red snapper season in 2014. Rather than fix that system, some are seeking to take advantage of the chaos and grab a private portion of red snapper.

“If Amendment 40 passes, it is likely that up to 75 percent of the entire Gulf red snapper fishery will be privately held by a few individuals, for private profit. If Amendment 40 passes, it will likely become the model to apply to other species under federal management. 

“In response to a broken federal system that does not know how to manage recreational fisheries, the answer cannot be to simply lock anglers out of the fishery altogether and ignore them.”

In its discussion of possible allocations of the recreational catch, the Council’s brochure offers nine alternatives for how the catch would be allocated, provided Amendment 40 proceeds. 

The preferred allocation is stated as Alternative 4: Base allocation on landings between 1996 and 2013, resulting in a 45.9 percent federal for-hire allocation and 54.1 percent private angling allocation. Under the options alternatives, the private anglers’ percentage could be as high as 70.9 percent or as low as 45.7 percent.

“The question shouldn’t be about how much the charter boats and the private recreational angler gets, but how much each state should be allowed,” said fisherman Gene Reynolds of Biloxi. “We all know that this federal management failure is only going to get worse, and this Amendment thing is another SNAFU waiting to happen.”