Judge Upholds Red Snapper Quotas For Anglers, Charter Boats

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge Tuesday upheld a new rule allocating separate red snapper quotas for private recreational anglers and licensed charter captains.

         U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo made the ruling in a lawsuit brought by a nonprofit group of recreational anglers and three of its 120,000 members. The Coastal Conservation Association contended that the rule was arbitrary and said its members would be hurt because anglers could take fewer red snapper.

         "This decision is a major win for hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers who love to fish for red snapper but aren't fortunate enough to own their own boat," Capt. Shane Cantrell, executive director of the Charter Fishermen's Association, said in a news release.

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         The fish are highly prized and tightly managed, with catch limits and other rules for commercial and recreational fishermen. Commercial boats are allocated 51 percent of the total, with a separate quota for each boat.

         Recreational fishing has regularly gone beyond its 49 percent quota, which has never before been split between private anglers and charter boats. The new rule allocates 57.7 percent to anglers and 42.3 percent to federally licensed charter captains.

         The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council gave a "rational justification for its decision," she wrote. She also said the record shows that a shorter federal season for private anglers is offset by their ability to go after the fish in state waters, where charter captains cannot work.

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         Milazzo also rejected arguments that subdividing the recreational quota was illegal. Other courts have found that such subquotas are legal, she noted.

         The Coastal Conservation Association did not immediately return a call for comment.

         The Environmental Defense Fund applauds the ruling, said Robert E. Jones, regional director for the Gulf of Mexico.

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         "Separate catch limits for charter fishermen and private anglers in the Gulf can enable better management options that will end persistent overharvests while allowing greater access to the resource," he said in a prepared statement.

         The group filed a friend-of-the-court brief "because one-size-fits-all management for diverse types of fishing was failing miserably," he said.

         Cantrell said the split is necessary to end "the downward spiral of shrinking fishing seasons that have limited fishing opportunities for recreational fishermen and strangled small charter fishing businesses for too long."

         – by AP Reporter Janet McConnaughey



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