Captains say: Ruling on sector separation is a win for boats, tourism and fish

Tina Harbuck

Earlier this week, a federal judge upheld an amendment which allows for the separation of red snapper quotas for charter boat captains and private recreational anglers.

Judge Jane Triche Milazzo made a ruling on a lawsuit brought by a nonprofit group, Coastal Conservation Association, of recreational anglers that said Amendment 40, aka sector separation, was arbitrary and hurting the recreational angler.

“It was a big victory for us. Not just for charter boats but everybody that fishes with us,” said Capt. Jim Green of the New Florida Girl’s American Spirit and vice president of the Destin Charter Boat Association.

In the past, charter fisherman and recreational fishermen have been lumped together into one management plan for red snapper. However, with the passage of Amendment 40, the charter boat fishermen will have the chance to better manage the fishery with their own separate allocation.

The Secretary of Commerce approved the amendment in the Spring of 2015, but a lawsuit was brought against it saying it was illegal and not fair to the recreational angler.

With the ruling, “It moved the distraction that Amendment 40 is illegal and allows us to move forward,” Green said.

“We have a legal right to exist as a separate sector,” said Capt. Gary Jarvis of the Backdown 2 and president of the Destin Charter Boat Association.

“It’s gives us a future. It’s a win for the well-being of the charter boats, a win for business and tourism and a win for the fish,” Jarvis said.

Red snapper, often tagged the signature fish of the Emerald Coast, is highly sought after with folks planning their vacations around the days of when the fish is available to be harvested.

“I don’t think we’ll have any adjustments to the season this year. I think it will be status quo,” Jarvis said.

He anticipates a 44-day season beginning June 1 for federally permitted charter boats.

“We wish the private boats great success, but what we were doing wasn’t working,” he said.

“We’re still fighting for the right to manage our own fish,” Green said.

“Our ulitimate goal is a create a new fishery management plan,” he added.

The next step is passage of Amendment 41 that deals with a red snapper management plan for federally permitted charter boats, and Amendment 42 which is a reef fish management plan for the headboats, aka party boats.

Green said the headboat plan is a bit further along than Amendment 41, due to the recent two-year pilot program that just warpped up Dec. 31, 2015. For two years, about 20 headboats along the Gulf Coast have been part of program where they were allotted a certain number of red snapper tags to use throughout the year based on their landing from 2011. When their bank of tags were used up, they were done for the year. The program went well and opened the fishery to many who have not caught snapper in more than 10 years.

“They (the headboats) already have the data,” he said, noting it could help Amendment 42 along quicker.

However, he has hopes that it will “set the stage for the charter boats.”