By Chris Horton, Senior Fisheries Program Director
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries will soon determine the 2018 Gulf of Mexico red snapper season as they evaluate the five Gulf States’ recently submitted Exempted Fishing Permit (EFPs) applications.
In 2017, the federal-water recreational red snapper season was originally three days and later extended to 42 days by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. This will not be an option for the 2018 season. Instead, NOAA Fisheries invited each of the five Gulf States to submit applications for EFP’s allowing the states to manage the red snapper fishery under an experimental pilot program for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The annual catch limit (ACL) will still be set by NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf Council, but the states would be allowed to set their own seasons out to 200 nautical miles and test the efficiency of their recently developed recreational harvest data collection programs to more effectively manage in-season harvest and closures.
The idea behind the EFPs is generally supported by all, however there are some disagreements. Specifically, Texas and Louisiana have requested to manage the entire recreational sector (both private angler and charter/for-hire [CFH] components), while Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi are only requesting to manage private anglers.
According to NOAA Fisheries, they cannot prevent the Texas and Louisiana federally permitted CFH vessels from fishing a federal-water season that would be open to the other three states’ CFH vessels. This would essentially allow Texas and Louisiana charter boats to have the advantage of fishing both state and federal seasons. The increased harvest could potentially reduce the total number of days the Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida charter fisheries would have available.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation submitted comments in favor of the EFPs in general, while also offering a potential solution to the disparity between states relative to including the CFH subcomponent.
The public comment period ended on April 2, and NOAA Fisheries will make a decision to accept or reject the EFPs in the coming weeks.
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?