Although turnout wasn’t quite what organizers had hoped for, participants in a floating protest on Perdido Pass got their point across — the federal red snapper season is too short, and many fishermen here on the Gulf Coast aren’t too happy about it.
“I think we had a decent turnout,” Justin Fadalla with Saltwater Finaddicts, one of the organizers of the protest, told the press. “It wasn’t what we expected. We expected a few more boats … But we’re all fishermen. That’s what this is all about, to protect our fishing rights. That’s what we really needed.”
A couple dozen boats, not the 200 predicted, descended on Perdido Pass last weekend for a floating protest aimed at the shortened federal red snapper season, which this year was only three days, June 1-3. Every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s sustainable fisheries division uses reported fishing numbers, mathematical modeling and other data to calculate the length of the private fishing season, which is different from the commercial season.
This year’s three-day season didn’t impress Gulf Coast fishermen or state and local officials, many of whom say the federal regulations are overbearing and unnecessary.
“The next thing, they are going to tell us how to hold the pole, the rod and reel,” said Roy Moore, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice and current U.S. Senate candidate, of the shortened season. “When they do that, they can do anything.”
State Sen. Trip Pittman, also running for the U.S. Senate, said federal regulators are miscalculating the number of fish and thereby unnecessarily limiting the season.
“We have a good fishery in the northern Gulf,” Pittman said. “We’re just not getting credit for the number of fish we have.”
That sentiment was echoed by Gov. Kay Ivey in a letter she sent to the Trump administration asking that the season be lengthened, something the president could do with an executive order.
“Red snapper fishing is vital to Alabamians as it is a major source of recreational enjoyment and provides great economic impact,” Ivey said in a statement on the issue. “Overreaching federal bureaucrats have unjustly made the 2017 red snapper season shorter than any season in history — that decision is simply unacceptable for Alabama.
“I have asked President Trump to extend the season to include every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in June along with July 3 and July 4,” Ivey said. “The federal government’s estimates of the number of red snapper being caught and living in the wild are simply not accurate. I hope the president will do the right thing and take swift action on my request and right this wrong.”
Ivey’s request says “the population of this valuable species is thriving” and “the federal management has not kept up with the rapid rebuilding success of this stock.”
NOAA officials, though, say that that successful rebuilding of the red snapper stock is one of the very reasons for the shortened seasons: as the stock improves, fishermen catch more and more snapper in a day, lessening the need for a long season.
Another factor they say necessitates a short season? Inconsistent state regulations, which is something protesters at Perdido Pass seemed to misunderstand.
“They allow Texas to fish 365 days a year, four snapper per person,” Tom Steber with Zeke’s Marina told media after the protest. “Alabama can’t do nothing.”
Texas’ federal red snapper season is the same as Alabama’s — three days — but Steber alludes to Texas’ 365-day state season. While Alabama’s state red snapper season is 66 days this year, still shorter than Texas’, that’s not what many see as the problem.
During a state’s individual red snapper season, fishing can only be done in local waters. It’s the federal season when fishermen are able to go past “local” waters — more than nine miles offshore — to fish where they say the red snapper bite the best.
All in all, while he says the floating protest may not have been the huge success he’d hoped for, Fadalla said the protesters achieved their goal.
“Gathering in Perdido Pass is not going to change anything,” he said. “But I hope it gets the word out there that we’re mad.”