Pending approval and acceptance by the four other Gulf state’s fisheries directors and the U.S. Department of Commerce, recreational anglers in Louisiana will get an extended 27-day weekends-only recreational red snapper season in federal waters this summer starting Saturday, June 17 and going through Labor Day.
On Monday afternoon in Baton Rouge, the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission unanimously approved a Declaration of Emergency accepting the one-time 27-day season — with the possibility of a fall season out to 9 miles if the state’s allowable catch is not reached by Sept. 4 — on behalf of Louisiana.
The four other Gulf states have until this Wednesday, June 14, to let the federal government know which option they select in the coming days.
A 27-day Saturday/Sunday season (including the Monday and Tuesday of the 4th of July holiday and the Monday of Labor Day) gained momentum last week when Texas opted against a potential 39-day Friday/Saturday/Sunday season that would have eliminated the possibility of a state season this fall.
A majority of Louisiana anglers that were surveyed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries last week opted for the 39-day season, but having to reach a consensus with the other Gulf states meant the 27-day option was best, according to LDWF’s assistant secretary of fisheries Patrick Banks.
“All states need to agree on one path forward for this to work …” Banks said. “Certainly it seems the survey spoke very loudly for 39 days. The concern from the Gulf states and the Department of Commerce is that it did not seem that Texas felt comfortable giving up their authority to reopen their state waters. And so it just didn’t seem like they were amenable to the 39-day (option) so knowing there is no deal if not all of the states agree, we felt like it was better to go ahead and agree to the 27-day season, at least in principal.
“I think that’s what you saw from the other Gulf states, especially Alabama and Florida.”
If all Gulf states agree and the extended season opens this weekend, what remains to be seen is how many actual fishing days Louisiana anglers will get on the water this summer.
Department officials will be monitoring snapper caught through the use of LA Creel — LDWF’s real-time harvest data program — to prevent anglers from exceeding the state’s self-imposed allocation. If that number is reached before the end of the 27 days, the declaration passed on Monday allows Secretary Jack Montoucet to close the season.
Camp Matens, one of Louisiana’s three representatives on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, told the Commission he supported the 27-day option, and stressed the importance of LA Creel in proving to the federal government that Louisiana can accurately manage snapper caught out to 200 miles.
“LA Creel and what we’re doing in Louisiana is the gold standard - that’s exactly what I told the Feds,” Matens said. “We are far better equipped to determine the catch rate. I don’t mean for this to be critical by any means, but I’m not sure the other four states have the ability to the exactness you guys have. If that means that somebody blows through their number - if that means at the end of the trail the total available red snapper in the Gulf are exceeded by one or more other states — or us — then there’s payback that will come off the top of what we do next year.
“We can only control Louisiana, and the accuracy of what you guys are doing is paramount. This is a really good opportunity for us.”
David Cresson, executive director for Coastal Conservation Association-Louisiana, echoed Matens’ comments, saying the 27-day season could prove to the federal government that the state can closely monitor the harvest brought back to docks along the Louisiana coast.
“If we do this right, as I know we will, and if we manage the season very carefully like we have the past few years of our state season, I think we have the opportunity to use this as a way to show Louisiana can be trusted with this responsibility to do it better than anybody else,” Cresson said.