Three days is just a drop in the fish bucket compared to 200. Yet that is exactly how long recreational fishers will have to catch red snapper in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico this year. The short season will make history and represents a sharp decline from 2006, when the season consisted of approximately 200 days. The change is alarming to anglers and industry fisheries alike and caught the attention of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who invited experts to discuss two major controversies surrounding red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico – the distribution of allotments between commercial and recreational anglers and state versus federal regulations.
Commercial fishers argue that recreational anglers exceed their catch limits, while recreational stakeholders counter that federal regulations do not set their catch limits high enough. Mr. Mark Ray (Vice Chairman, Coastal Conservation Association) explained recreational fishers simply want a management system that provides appropriate allocations of the resource and a longer catch season. Conversely, Mr. Christopher Brown (President, Seafood Harvesters of America) described “glaring issues” with “the general uncertainty associated with the recreational fishery,” saying that for continued recovery, management of the recreational sector must improve through reliance on scientific assessments and not politics.
Gulf States fisheries managers contend they are best suited to regulate both recreational and commercial snapper fishing, arguing that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) makes flawed estimates and fails to properly coordinate with state management. Mr. Ray added, “federal management tools are predicated on the ability of managers to count every single fish that spawns and is caught in the Gulf of Mexico,” which is not possible. On the flipside, Mr. Brown asserted that state managers don’t want to make unpopular decisions in a politically charged arena, making them ill-suited for the role. Mr. Earl Comstock (Director, Office of Policy and Strategic Planning, Department of Commerce) concurred, adding that the reported abundance of red snapper means federal regulations are working.
At the end of the day, the panel could at least agree the goal of regulations – both federal and state – is to help the red snapper stock recover and for recreational and industry fisheries alike to have abundant, healthy allocations. As Mr. Brown entreated, “While we may use different gear and target different species, we all have in common a desire and commitment to manage our fisheries sustainably.”