Today’s official announcement of a 10-day recreational red snapper season starting June 1 was met with the expected aggravation by Mississippi’s coastal fishermen, and then some.
“Ten days of red snapper fishing is an insult to recreational anglers and should be an embarrassment to the federal government,” said Johnny Marquez, executive director of Mississippi’s Coastal Conservation Association.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in its Southeast Fisheries Bulletin a plan to split the recreational harvest quota between private anglers and “for-hire” charter captains.
When the season opens, the daily recreational creel will be two fish with a minimum length of 16 inches per person per day.
The new segment made up of a few hundred charter boats were given a 44-day season, also starting June 1, and given 43 percent of the total recreational quota.
The CCA has filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana to stop the sector separation, claiming that the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Managing Act does not allow for sub-dividing the recreational sector.
“Basically, it means that about a million private anglers get 57 percent and a couple hundred charter boats get 43 percent, and that does not make sense,” said fisherman Tom Rogers of Biloxi. “Seriously, how screwed up is that?”
A lot, said Marquez.
“Seeking to further privatize the fishery through schemes that put access to fish and our public resources into the hands of fewer and fewer people, and removing access from private boat anglers and the general public is simply flawed thinking,” he said.
The CCA’s position is that Amendment 40 — the act that separates the sector — is the first step in NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to push for individual quotas, much as it has done with the commercial sector.
“Federal officials see it as the fewer hands involved makes it easier to manage the resource, which is a cornerstone of why we feel the Gulf snapper management would be in better hands if it was managed by the states,” Marquez said. “The states could do a better job.
“At a House committee hearing in (Washington) D.C. this week on Magnuson reauthorization, red snapper was highlighted repeatedly as a fishery where federal management is broken. The announcement of a 10-day recreational season only confirms that this fishery is on a dead-end street and in need of significant changes.”
CCA claims that Amendment 40 will eventually lead to 70 percent of the Gulf red snapper catch being privately held, counting both the commercial and recreational sectors, while recreational anglers who fish on their own boats will find their access to federal waters severely limited.
“Amendment 40 embodies everything that is wrong with federal management of our marine resources; it is completely out of step with this nation’s heritage of wildlife resource management,” said Bill Bird, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “It has been overwhelmingly opposed at every step in the process, but a very small minority has been allowed to manipulate the system to their personal advantage.”
As expected, Mississippi’s charter fleet is elated over the announced changes and the 44-day season.
“This is great news for us, but I know the CCA and the recreational fishermen do not like it,” said Capt. Jay Trossechet, who is entering his 42nd year as a licensed captain in Biloxi. “I charter more for red snapper than anyone else in Mississippi, and this is going to be good for me. Last year, I had a lot of trips booked when they announced the 24-day season, and then when they shortened it to nine days I had to return a lot of money. This will help me, help us make a living.”
In defending the sector separation, Trossechet said his possession of a required Federal Reef Permit does not allow him to fish in state-specific seasons outside of the federal seasons. He estimates there are 15 charters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with the Federal Reef Permit.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that when the states create a season in their state territorial waters, we are forbidden to fish that time,” he said. “The problem we have is that in the other states — Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Alabama — they have good snapper fisheries within their territorial waters that we do not have.
“They have all those wrecks (sunken ships to create habitat) off Florida and Alabama to fish, and Texas and Louisiana have the oil rigs. Mississippi basically doesn’t have anything like that.”
Even though he’s happy with the current plan, Trossechet agreed with the CCA that the overall management of the snapper fishery is horribly flawed.
“It’s a screwed up affair, and I’d like to see the states take it (management) over out to 200 miles instead of the federal officials running it,” Trossechet said. “They simply can’t manage the Gulf fishery as one entity. They have no clue about how many red snapper there are out there.
“We’ve got more snapper out there now than at anytime in the 42 years I’ve been in the business and the years before that when I deck-handed for my dad. The federal guys don’t count the fish on private reefs, so they are not anywhere close with their estimates of the snapper population. The states can do a lot better job of tracking the harvest, making fish population counts and setting the seasons.”