By Dr. Bob Shipp
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, at its April meeting and under the hammer of the Federal Courts, declared the ridiculous recreational season for red snapper to be eleven days. As reported last month in this column, the Council had no choice. The recreational quota had been exceeded for the sixth time in seven years.
The very next day, Louisiana announced their season would run all year. Of course this would be restricted to state waters, the extent of which is another controversial issue. But in any case, the National Marine Fisheries Service was compelled to recalculate the season, and in mid-May, it was determined to be nine days.
The call from many quarters is let’s just quit playing games and shut the whole federal season down. Nine days is too few to even consider. And the way things are going, we may exceed the quota again, and have a shortened season or no season again next year.
Now Texas, Florida, and Louisiana have chosen to buck the federal mandates,
and go it alone. All this because they, like everybody else, know this whole system is a farce. The healthier the stocks are, the more quickly we blow through the quota. It’s an insane paradox.
So now it’s time for Mississippi and Alabama to make their move. It’s time for them to go non-compliant. What would this do? In the case of Alabama there are anecdotal reports of a respectable population of red snapper within the three mile boundary of the state. If Alabama, like Louisiana, went none compliant for the entire year, there is a reasonable possibility that the remainder of the quota would be caught and there would be no federal season in 2015.
But even if Alabama were to have a short summer and/or fall season in 2014, there would be some real benefits. First, those anecdotal reports would cease to be anecdotal, and we could really learn what numbers of reds are around those near shore rigs and the few other hard structures. Second, it would signal a continued lack of support for the broken federal system. And third, it would probably be the tipping point to get Congressional action to fix this problem.
I have offered alternative solutions in earlier columns, simply area closures or state control, so I won’t rant on these again. But if a nine day season isn’t the catalyst for serious action, I don’t know what is.
As I write this I’m told coastal Congressmen are meeting to address the problem. I know that Congressman Byrne is committed to finding a solution, and I assume his colleagues from adjacent coastal districts are as well.
But step one, absolutely essential, is to extend the state boundaries of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to nine miles, thus matching the boundaries of Florida and Texas. With a worst possible scenario of no other action on the horizon, we could at least have a viable fishery. But hopefully this action would be followed by additional remedies, as discussed in previous columns.
In Alabama we have an ongoing research and monitoring program conducted by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the Marine Resources Division of the Department of Conservation that can provide our state managers with the data needed to insure a healthy sustainable fishery. In addition, the newly adopted requirement for angler’s to report red snapper harvest strengthens this data base. And if Congress would extend state jurisdiction to twenty fathoms or some other realistic boundary, we could have not only a healthy sustainable fishery, but an economically viable one as well.
Dr. Bob has served on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council for eighteen years, three terms as chair, and currently chair of the Reef Fish Committee. He is author of “Dr. Bob Shipp’s Guide to the Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico” available at bobshipp.com.