The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will hold a special meeting Monday afternoon at 1:30 to get public input and discuss the state’s potential participation in an extended recreational red snapper season this summer.
All indications point to Gulf anglers getting extra days in federal waters — the question now is exactly how many.
Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) spearheaded a Congressional delegation this spring that requested the U.S. Department of Commerce consider extending the recreational red snapper season in the Gulf this summer. (The original season proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lasted just three days, June 1-3.)
That resulted in two options from the federal government: a 27-day Saturday/Sunday only season starting June 17 and ending Sept. 4 (including the Monday and Tuesday of the July 4th weekend and the Monday of Labor Day) that would allow the possibility of a state season out to 9 miles this fall if Louisiana’s annual catch limit wasn’t reached by Labor Day.
The second option was a 39-day Friday/Saturday/Sunday season that would start June 16 and end Sept. 4 (including the three holiday days specified in the first plan) without a possibility of a fall state season.
Under either option, no red snapper fishing in either state or federal waters would be permitted on weekdays (unless the 39-day option is selected — then Fridays would be in play.)
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet told the Commission Thursday morning that after a conference call with the other Gulf states’ directors, the group sided with the 27-day option. But late Thursday afternoon, Graves indicated ongoing negotiations put the 39-day Friday/Saturday/Sunday plan back in play.
“We see both as being options. Obviously, three days a week is preferable,” Graves said. “We just want to make sure any change does not result in over-fishing.”
At Thursday's Commission meeting, Montoucet said Texas didn't favor the longer plan because of the loss of the fall state season.
“There was some appetite for the 39 days certainly, because it’s more days, but after a lot of consideration and a lot of discussion, Texas was totally uncomfortable with 39 days,” Montoucet said. “They have 365 state days they fish snapper, but they did have an appetite for the 27-day one if they could reopen their state season after that.
“So the consensus was at the end of the day, some of the other states said, ‘Well we could live with that in the spirit of cooperation,’ so the 27-day is more appealing for everybody.”
Montoucet said his staff sent out surveys to about 15,000 state anglers who had requested Recreational Offshore Landing Permits in the past, and 48 percent of the roughly 5,000 respondents favored a 39-day summer season, while about 32 percent chose the 27-day option. Only about 20 percent favored the status quo, Montoucet said.
Commission Chairman Chad Courville set Monday’s special 1:30 p.m. meeting to give the public time to voice their opinion on a potential extended season.
“We don’t want to spring anything on them. And I think they’re depending on us to give them a venue to provide us comment — both favorably and negatively,” Courville said. “I think there are some groups that may not like this, and I think we’re obligated to give them a chance to speak.”
Whatever option is ultimately ratified by the Commission — if any — Courville indicated he wanted to ensure Louisiana didn’t exceed its annual catch target, regardless of how other Gulf states operated during a potential extended season.
He requested that LA Creel — the state’s real-time harvest data program — keep the commissioners and the public updated on how much quota remained as any summer season progressed.
“I think it needs to be acknowledged for public comment that there’s a reasonable chance if seas go completely flat and everybody decides to go nuts, we may not make it all the way to Labor Day, and that needs to be acknowledged and considered, and (we need a) mechanism by which to use the LA Creel data to help us stay within that quota,” Courville said. “I think it certainly needs to be considered, and we need to address it Monday and perhaps give the secretary authority in that regard as we have in past snapper seasons, to make adequate and appropriate adjustments ….
“I think this is a great test of state management. It’s an opportunity for us. And I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the Department and Congress for giving us this opportunity.”
David Cresson, chief executive officer of Coastal Conservation Association - Louisiana, said he also heard the 39-day plan was still on the table.
“From what I’m hearing, both options are still being considered,” Cresson said late Thursday afternoon.
Regardless of which plan ultimately might be selected, Cresson said more fishing days for the state’s offshore anglers was a good thing.
“This solution by Rep. Graves, Rep. Scalise and the Department of Commerce will provide a lot of opportunities for anglers this summer, and business for marinas and lodges and bait shops on the coast who depend on these anglers, and will create a lot of activity in areas that wouldn’t otherwise see it,” Cresson said. “But being that this is a temporary solution to the problem, we still have significant issues to deal with how this fishery is managed by the Gulf Council, and we hope over the coming weeks and months we’ll have some viable solutions in hand.”