February 8, 2018

Gulf of Mexico Anglers Could See Longer Red Snapper Fishing Seasons

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the week of January 29. Several notable actions made by the Council are intended to enhance the 2018 season and beyond for recreational anglers in the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of amendments discussed within the Reef Fish Committee’s agenda specifically pertained to red snapper, as well as the new Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) applications.

Each of the five Gulf States have submitted applications for EFPs to allow the states to manage their portion of the Gulf-wide recreational quota. These EFPs will be necessary in order for the private recreational anglers to have a red snapper season in 2018. While Texas and Louisiana’s EFPs included both the private recreational anglers and the charter for hire/head boat components, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida’s only pertain to the private angler component.

Consistency in management by states may be required – either management of private recreational anglers only or of both recreational anglers as well as charter/for-hire – in order for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to implement EFPs equitably across states.

The proportion of Gulf-wide recreational quota per state will also need to be addressed. If the states’ agreement is approved by NMFS, these EFPs would allow the states to determine when their red snapper seasons will begin and end in both state and federal waters. However, the season must be closed when the states reach their agreed upon recreational quota. During the meeting, the Council voted to recommend approval of the EFPs, leaving the final decision to approve or disapprove each EFP to NMFS.

Another action taken by the Council was to continue exploring reallocation of the red snapper fishery between the commercial and recreational sectors. Amendment 28 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan shifted 2.5 percent of the quota from the commercial to the recreational sector in 2016 based on new data that indicated the original allocations were set incorrectly. However, the red snapper commercial fishing industry filed suit against NMFS and the court vacated the amendment on a technicality pertaining to the National Standards in March of last year.

Finally, the Council voted to develop a white paper to look at implementing resource rents on quota above the historic 4.56 million pounds harvested by the commercial fishery prior to the implementation of the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) catch share program in 2007. Individuals or companies that are granted exclusive rights to extract a public natural resource for profit – such as timber harvest on National Forests or oil/gas drilling in the oceans or on federal public lands – are required to compensate the public for that opportunity. Currently, the commercial red snapper IFQ shareholders are only required to pay around 3 percent of the ex-vessel value of the landed fish as a recovery fee to offset some of the costs associated with administering the IFQ program in the fishery, but they do not reimburse the American public for profiting from their exclusive right to harvest fish under this system.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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