Politics and State Fishing Seasons Restricting Angler Access to Federal Waters
May 2, 2017 – NOAA has just announced that this year’s federal red snapper recreational fishing season will be three days long. The season was 11 days last years and has been consistently decreasing over the last decade. This short federal season is unfair to private recreational anglers and they deserve a management system with more sustainable access to federal waters. However, the factors that led us here are complex and policy makers should also look at decisions made by Gulf States to understand how overfishing occurred in 2016 and why the season has been cut again.
In the early 2000’s red snapper were pushed to the brink after decades of overfishing by both recreational and commercial fishermen. Harvest limits had to be drastically cut and commercial fishermen moved into an individual fishing quota system that encouraged conservation and ended the race to fish caused by short seasons. The result has been a remarkable rebuilding of red snapper, allowing commercial fishermen to provide fresh, wild caught red snapper to consumers across the country. In fact, the total annual allotment of red snapper that everyone in the Gulf can catch, including recreational fishermen, has more than doubled over the last nine years.
While federal managers have been successful in keeping commercial fishermen at or below their quota for a decade now, inconsistent state and federal recreational seasons have failed anglers and led to regular overharvesting in that sector – including going 25% over the recreational quota in 2016. Last year Texas had its state waters open for red snapper fishing for 365 days with a four fish bag limit, Louisiana 272, Florida 85, Alabama 66 and Mississippi 102. The result is that upwards of 79% of the total Gulf-wide science-based limit of recreational red snapper is now being caught within nine miles. That leaves very little quota for fishing between 9-200 miles.
Anglers are the ones that lose quality access to deeper more productive federal waters in this protracted fight between the Gulf States and the federal government. They deserve a better system that gives them the flexibility to fish when and where they choose and that produces more accurate real-time catch records while preventing overfishing. The Gulf of Mexico fishery is a shared national treasure that should be accessible to all Americans whether by boat, grocery store or restaurant.
It is time to move past anti-commercial rhetoric and fish grab schemes to real solutions that preserve the balance we all deserve in the Gulf. We encourage policy makers to take a close look at proposals under consideration in the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to give the states more flexibility to manage their private anglers while still preserving science-based catch limits and the protections given to commercial fishermen under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Share the Gulf is a coalition of chefs, restaurateurs, restaurant associations, seafood businesses, fishermen, conservationists, local food advocates and regular consumers that want to keep the local Gulf seafood industry fair and strong. Our simple goal is to make sure Gulf seafood continues to be shared fairly and sustainably so that all of us can enjoy it for generations to come. Join the coalition at www.sharethegulf.org.