The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) announced plans today to further limit the Red Snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico to just nine days in 2014.
This decision follows Louisiana and Florida’s announcement of in-state seasons that will not comply federal fishing regulations.
Louisiana will open its state waters to snapper fishing 265 days a year, and Florida, which has typically followed federal regulations, announced plans for 52-day season earlier this month. Alabama’s season was projected to be as long as 40 days late last year.
The federal season will begin as planned on June 1, and two-fish bag limits and 16-inch minimum size requirements from previous years will remain in effect.
U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne and others in the recreational fishing sector have argued the scientific methods used by NOAA to measure Red Snapper stocks are fatally flawed, and are not reflective of the actual number of Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Alabama’s fishermen and coastal communities are being devastated by the federal government’s total inability to effectively regulate Red Snapper fishing,” Byrne said in a press release. “Today’s development merely serves to highlight the fact that the federal regulatory framework is broken beyond repair.”
Byrne said he still believes the only way to fix the broken system is to return the responsibility of fishery management back over to the states. Marine scientists and professional fishermen have provided data that suggests the population of snapper is extremely healthy both in size and number.
However, the methods used by NOAA have continued to result in shorter seasons and smaller quotas.
U.S District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein ruled against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in late March for allowing recreational fishers in the Gulf of Mexico to go over their portion of the red snapper quota for six of the last seven years.
The judge’s ruling mandated the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council take appropriate action to mitigate any overages during the 2014 season. Because of the small window of time, an extremely shortened season was the only ways to abide by the ruling.
An assessment of the snapper population is currently underway and could be completed before the end of the year, but Dr. Bob Shipp, a member of the Gulf council and chairman of the Marine Sciences Department at the University of South Alabama, doesn’t think that will fix the problem.
“This whole issue is insane,” he said. “Our problem is the quota system. The healthier the stock, the quicker we blow through the quota. If the stocks were in trouble, we couldn’t meet the quota.”
Shipp said that’s because the size and number of Snapper make it easy to reach weight-based limits.
“Even if they raised the quota by 30 or 40 percent, that would only mean an extra four or five days,” he added. “There’s so many big fish, we’d still catch the quota is no time. We need to get away from this quota system.”