Red snapper season to take another cut

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is exploring a plan to give the states more authority in managing red snapper and seeking public input on the subject. The council will hold a meeting in Panama City next week to solicit comments on the plan.

It looks as though the red snapper season for area fishermen is going to take yet another cut —  27 days, starting June 1.

Last year, anglers got 46 days, including a six-day extension due to bad weather and were allowed to catch two red snapper per day from June 1 to July 16.

At this week's Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting in Mobile there has been discussion about the length of the season as well as the bag limit.

After the public comment session Thursday, Destin's Capt. Mike Eller, who was in attendance, said, "it was overwhelming to stay at two fish per person." He said the only people to speak on the behalf of a possible one fish per day was a group from Orange Beach, Ala.

If the council decides to go to one fish per day, anglers would get only about 40 to 44 days.

Eller, who serves as chairman on the Destin Charter Boat Association, said the DCBA supports the two fish per person.

"We were concerned that we'd never get that fish back," he said.

Plus there was a concern for the fishermen on the smaller boats and if they would want to go out and burn 300 gallons of fuel for just one fish. "They would probably just throw their hands up and not go ... not worth it to them," Eller said. But for two fish they might go as often as they could, he said.

As it stands right now, it looks as though the season will be 27 days.

However, once the stock assessment is in on the fishery, "we may get a bump of a couple of days," Eller said.

The benchmark assessment should be in the next 30 to 60 days.

But for now, "It's very disheartening," said Capt. Jim Green of the party boat New Florida Girl's American Spirit.

"The fishery management plan is so backwards it will never work for anybody," Green said. "Every year we lose more and more access.

"The TAC (total allowable catch) will never catch up with the growth rate of the fish by the science they are using," Green said.

The size of the snapper is getting bigger, but the "problem is they are not raising the TAC. And by going to one fish, it would only put a Band-Aid on it ... it's not addressing the infection that the Band-Aid is covering up," he said.

In the last three or four years, NOAA Fisheries has cut back on the season in federal waters trying to rebuild the red snapper fishery. And for the most part all the Gulf states are in compliance in state waters with the federal mandate, except for Texas, who says they're going to catch snapper in state waters, Eller said. State waters go nine miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

The problem lies with boats that hold a federal permit. They have to abide by federal laws no matter where they catch the fish, and if red snapper is closed in federal waters, then boats that hold a federal permit can't land one in state waters, even if the state decides to go non-compliance with the federal.

At Thursday's Gulf Council meeting, "Everybody told them they weren't doing their job," Eller said. "It was not a good day to be a Gulf councilman. They got hammered."

Texas is in non-compliance and Louisiana is looking to go in that direction as well.

"It's turning into a mess," Eller said. "It's really starting to spin out of control."

He said there is a push by the recreational fishermen in Florida to go non-compliant in state waters. But it would only help the small boat and private boats, that do not hold a federal permit.

Eller said the council needs to realize that the rebuilding program is working ... "they need to throw us a bone ... But they are taking such a hard stance on this that they are going to make everybody a law breaker."

The council was expected to take some kind of action on the two fish per day issue on Friday. Results were not available at press time.