Fishery Council Divides Red Snapper Quota

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Reef Fish Amendment 40, a move in the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to divide the annual recreational red snapper quota in the Gulf's vast federal waters between private anglers and "for-hire" charter boat operations, passed by a 10-7 vote in the final hours of the council's quarterly meeting last week in Mobile, Alabama.

         The approval of the controversial plan that could carve as much as 47 percent of the annual recreational red snapper take for charter boat operators came despite the appeal of the governors from the five Gulf states, a plea from the 300-member Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus and widespread pleas from recreational fishermen to turn down the move.

         Recreational fishermen operated under a plan that gave then 49 percent of the 11-million pound total allowable catch of red snapper. Commercial fishing gets 51 percent of that total, the breakdown grants recreational fishermen 5.39 million pounds annually, and passing Amendment 40 is certain to reduce the nine-day season federal fisheries managers allowed recreational anglers this year.

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         Although that 47 percent figure is still up for debate, it was the "preferred alternative" mentioned in GMFMC presentations when the amendment was proposed earlier this year.

         "The bottom line is it passed," said Camp Matens, Louisiana's recreational representative on the 17-member council. "There remains lots of questions about who gets what and when they will get it.

         "On Jan. 1, the total allowable catch begins for next year and now that we have states that are noncompliant, any (red) snapper caught between then and when the feds will allow the recreational season to begin, that catch from the noncompliant states will have to come off the top of that allowable catch."

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         The term "noncompliant" refers to states that allow recreational fishermen to take red snapper in its state waters outside the federally declared recreational red snapper season in federal waters.

         Late additions to the amendment included a three-year "sunset" limit on this plan that picked up the label "sector separation," because it divided the recreational sector's catch, and a plan that restricts for-hire operations from purchasing quota from commercial fishing interests.

         For Matens, those additions mean, "We're going to have a lot of pushing and shoving on this issue when the council meetings in Point Clear (Alabama) in January.

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         "It also means somebody is going to have to figure out how to divide the new quota among the charter boats," he said. "There appears to be 1,300 charter boat operations (in the five Gulf States) and with current statistics, it means, if divided equally, that's about 300 fish per (charter) boat."

         Matens said a move to push forward with Reef Fish Amendment 39, a plan to push red snapper and possibly other species into a regional management program could resolve any and all problems. The regional management concept would mean each of the five states would develop their individual plans for taking red snapper under federal quota guidelines.

         "Florida has its own unique (red-snapper catch) problems to solve, and Louisiana has problems to solve, too. Both have different sets of problems, and both would have different solutions," Matens said. "If regional management moves forward, then each state would have its own plan — and the National Marine Fisheries Services would have to approve each state's plan — but regional management would make Amendment 40 moot."


         – by AP/ Joe Macaluso with The Advocate

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