Much to the chagrin U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and other Gulf Coast legislators, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Wednesday that recreational fishermen well only have nine days to catch red snapper in 2016.
The announcement comes after a more than a year of legislative efforts have attempted give Gulf Coast states more control over setting the lengths of the seasons and accurately monitoring the size and health the snapper population.
Based on correspondence with NOAA, the private angling or recreational sector will have a nine-day season beginning on June 1 and ending at 12:01 a.m. on June 10 while charter boats with federal permits will have 46 days to catch snappers — June 1-17, 2016.
NOAA Fisheries also approved the final rule to reallocate the split in the snapper quota between commercial and recreational sectors from taking 2.5 percent from charter fishermen. Previously, that ration was split 51-49 with commercial fishermen approved for the larger portion, but the new ratios give the advantage to the recreation sector in a 48.5 to 51.5 split.
According to NOAA, the change follows new data on the Gulf’s red snapper population taken during the 2014 season that “better reflects the catch history of the recreational fishery.”
Also in the announcements, the per-pound snapper quotas were released for the next two years. This year, the commercial quota set at 6.768 million pounds, but in 2017, that number will go down slightly to 6.664 million pounds.
The recreational quota is now set at 7.192 million pounds for 2016 and 7.076 million pounds for 2017, and the private angling quota will 4.150 million pounds and 4.083 million pounds in the same years, respectively.
Seth Morrow, the communications director for Byrne’s office said, “Obviously, Congressman Byrne is very frustrated by this news and continues to believe Gulf states, not the federal government, should have more control over setting the red snapper season.”
Last June, the House of Representatives passed a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act the federal government uses to manage fishing quotas in federal waters. That reauthorization included reforms authored by Byrne that give Gulf states more control over red snapper regulations.
That bill , H.R. 1335, remains pending in the Senate. After the news of another short season had broken, Bryne himself weighed in, calling a nine-day season “a disgrace for Alabama’s fishermen.”
“This type of ‘derby-style’ season poses serious challenges and puts the safety of our fishermen at risk, Bryne wrote. “There are plenty of Red Snapper in the Gulf, but the federal government continues to do a terrible job counting the number of fish as well as the number caught each year.”
While the season in federal waters will be short once again, fishermen will have 66 days to fish Alabama’s state waters in 2016. Chris Blankenship directs the Marine Resources Division of Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and told Lagniappe Wednesday the state season would begin May 27 and run through the end of the July.
He said the decision had come down from Conservation Commissioner Gunter Guy based on research the state has conducted with the University of South Alabama that showed a larger snapper population than federal officials have indicated.
“We’ve been funding some research with USA for several years, and as part of that research Dr. (Sean) Powers estimates Alabama has around 20 million pounds of Red Snapper off the coast,” Blankenship said. “The landings for last year were right at a million pounds, and that leaves plenty of snapper in the water for us to support a season longer than nine days.”
The state’s waters start at the coast and extend nine miles out into the open ocean.
Blankenship said the extended season would give fishermen in state waters more time for recreational and commercial fishing, though he did said say there aren’t as many reefs there as there are in the deeper federal waters.
“That’s why we think a season through July 31st is appropriate,” he added. “We’re not trying to keep it open year round or anything like that, but we do think a season that length is commensurate with the resources we have available.”
Updated at 4:32 p.m. to include statements from Chris Blakenship and correct typographical errors.
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