Feds close snapper season on August 5
Federal fisheries officials blame Texas and other Gulf states for forcing the close of the federal red snapper fishery on Aug. 5.
"(Federal) regulations in 2007 included a recreational quota of 3.185 million pounds (MP) and a commercial quota of 3.315 MP. The recreational bag limit was reduced to two fish, with a zero-fish bag limit for captains or crews of for-hire vessels. The minimum size limit for the recreational fishery remained at 16 inches total length," a Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council news release said.
It explained that a federal court ruling in 2007 required National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service and the council to revise the red snapper rebuilding plan with a goal of having a 50-percent probability, or greater, of ending overfishing for red snapper between 2009 and 2010 and rebuilding the stock by 2032.
"However, Texas kept its state waters open year-round and anglers were allowed a daily bag limit of four fish. Similarly, Florida maintained a fishing season of April 15 through Oct. 31 during 2007 in its state waters, and a four-fish recreational bag limit," the news release said. "These incompatible regulations in state waters contributed to a recreational harvest that exceeded the recreational red snapper quota by approximately 1.0 million pounds in 2007. The commercial fishery landed 3.22 million pounds, or 97 percent of the 2007 commercial quota."
Port Aransas Boatmen Inc. member Mike Nugent, a fishing guide and a member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, called the action "payback for (Texas's) not going along with the federal regulations."
In January, NOAA reduced the recreational red snapper quota to 2.45 million pounds and the commercial quota to 2.55 million pounds. It also reduced the recreational red snapper season to June 1-Sept. 30, but didn't change bag limits or minimum sizes.
" Texas maintained its existing yearround fishing season and a four-fish bag limit in state waters, thus not complying with federal regulations," the news release said.
NOAA said red snapper landings from Texas state waters comprise a third of the state's total red snapper recreational landings, and projected recreational red snapper landings through the end of this year would be around 2.78 million pounds. That's 13.5 percent more than the quota, NOAA said, and requires the earlier recreational closing.
Analysts estimate a 75-percent probability that the quota will not be exceeded if the season is closed on Aug. 5, the news release said.
However, Nugent said although the analysis of the catch is supposed to be made public, he has been unable to get a copy from NOAA.
"The (NOAA) numbers are suspect," Nugent said. "Florida had a longer season, but they reduced their limit from four to two, so the catch should be much lower. Besides, with the price of fuel, the effort (to catch fish) is going to be lower."