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March 21, 2013

War Wages Over Red Snapper Fishing Grounds

Florida representative proposes to move state waters in the Gulf of Mexico out to 20 fathoms.

The war over red snapper continues. 

Fish managers continue to regulate the species in Gulf federal waters with tight bag limits and extended closed seasons, leaving many fishermen complaining. Managers say its mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act that the strict regulations occur, especially with the low stock-assessment numbers they're seeing.

State waters usually end up mirroring, at least partially, the federal limits and seasons. This year, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) approved a 27-day season for red snapper; the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) proposed a 44-day season for its state waters.

But reports from experienced captains and anglers of high red snapper catches dispute that and have some fishermen scratching their heads. Are the red snapper numbers as low as claimed? What a mess.

It's not surprising when U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, introduced the Gulf Fisheries Fairness Act last week. 

The bill would extend the state water boundaries of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, allowing the states to manage reef fish species like snapper, grouper, amberjack and triggerfish. This would allow individual states to control red snapper seasons and limits--instead of federal agencies--in the waters where most red snapper are caught.

With federal management agencies planning another short red snapper season this year, Southerland said the legislation would "cast a life preserver to fishermen and coastal economies struggling to stay afloat amid crippling federal regulations." In Florida, the legislation would reset state water boundaries for reef fish management from nine miles to a depth of 20 fathoms (120 feet), which could reach 60 miles offshore.

Not coincidentally, in the same week, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council fired back with this announcement as a reminder:

Under federal law, state waters off Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama extend from the coastline out to three nautical miles, and state waters off Texas and the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida extend from the coastline out to nine nautical miles.

Fishermen are reminded that federal waters are closed to recreational red snapper fishing until June 1, 2013. Therefore, the recreational harvest and possession of red snapper in federal waters off all Gulf of Mexico states is prohibited until June 1, 2013. Beginning June 1, 2013, federal waters throughout the Gulf of Mexico will open, with a 2-fish bag limit with a minimum size of 16 inches fork length.

For-hire vessels are also reminded that if federal regulations for Gulf reef fish are more restrictive than state regulations, a person aboard a charter vessel or headboat for which a federal charter/headboat permit for Gulf reef fish has been issued must comply with federal regulations regardless of where the fish are harvested.  Therefore, during the time federal waters are closed, vessels with a federal charter/headboat permit may not harvest or possess red snapper in state waters.

And so the battle continues. Apparently, the size of red snapper, the seasons for red snapper, and even the water the red snapper swim in are now fair game.