This is a commentary from Bob Zales, long-time charter fisherman out of Panama City, Florida, owner of several charter boats, member of more than one Advisory Panel to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, and President of the National Association of Charterboat Operators (NACO).
The current red snapper FMC has been a solid and great success and in my opinion, and I feel others feel the same) the success happened far faster most experts expected. Now the success has the 5 Gulf States working to common sense and reality into the red snapper fishery management scheme. There is no question by anyone, individual, federal or state regulator, and most fishery biologists that this fishery is near, if not totally rebuilt. The rebuilding of this fishery is so successful that under current management it will be closed before it can open due to the major problem with this fishery, the nonscientific arbitrary rebuilding guidelines that prevent the fishery from achieving Maximum Sustainable Yield. This comes from the fact the fish are growing larger, expanding their range, becoming more assessable, and in most places of the Gulf are the first fish caught on any trip. You no longer have to target red snapper, they wait on you.
Texas has always had a 9 mile limit and has never been punished by the feds for keeping their waters open all year. Florida also has had a 9 mile limit in the Gulf and when they kept state waters open, the feds, due to Dr. Crabtree’s retaliation have complied every year since. This year may be different as the FWC is considering their own regulations, like Texas. Louisiana has taken regulatory action to extend their waters to nine miles and has established their own recreational regulations. Mississippi has state legislation pending to do the same. I predict that Alabama will not remain the lone state to stay with a 3 mile state limit.
All of this is so unnecessary if only the feds would ease up on their regs and allow a reasonable number of days to fish. They could use numbers instead of pounds to control what is landed. They could a far better job of keeping track of recreational fishermen and what they harvest. Such proposals have been provided to the Gulf Council and the state of Florida 3 years ago. Allocation issues need to be discussed only after full stock assessments are completed and fully vetted to see what the real status of the stock is projected to be. Commercial and recreational fishermen can work together on fishery issues. Several of us have proven this yet the feds keep working to cause dissention between the groups.
Federal legislation has been introduced to help the recreational fishery. This legislation could be modified to not harm the commercial fishery and still help the recreational fishery. This would be best for all concerned, fishermen, their families, communities, those who purchase rather than catch fish, and the nation as a whole. Red snapper could be the poster fish to do this as the stock is clearly in the condition to do so. The NMFS and the Gulf Council, as well as the other Councils, could remember Gulf king mackerel. Pretty much every year the king mackerel fishery exceeded the allowable catch, some years double the number. King mackerel is now recognized by most of us as a clear success and along the way some fishermen and communities did suffer but none to the extent of those involved with red snapper.
Use king mackerel and take advantage of the success of red snapper and let folks go fishing and continue to buy a red snapper meal at their local restaurant.
Capt. Bob Zales, II