A standing-room-only crowd turned out for a scoping meeting held in Baton Rouge by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council on Jan. 14 to collect public input on the ongoing management of red snapper — specifically, whether or not the Gulf of Mexico fishery should be managed as a single unit or broken up into regional management units.

And the throng spoke with a unified message, according to Myron Fisher, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries representative to the council.

"One hundred percent of the people who spoke said they were in favor of regional management," Fisher said. "It's clear that people have more faith in letting Wildlife & Fisheries handle management than the having it done federally.

"The system is very broken."

The discussion came on the heels of a topsy-turvy year for the fishery. Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission members has proposed opening the recreational season in state waters on March 24 and allowing three-day-a-week fishing through September. By comparison, the federal season was set for June 1 through July 16 last year.

Also last year, state commissioners claimed waters 10 miles from the Louisiana coast; state waters historically have extended only three miles from the state's coastline. LDWF officials have said the agency's enforcement agents will only enforce state regulations out to the 10-mile boundary.

To the surprise of few, the federal snapper season is going to be short again this year – lasting a scant 27 days beginning June 1. Fisher said that was another reason the crowd turned out in big numbers for the scoping meeting.

"Everyone wants more days," he said. "That was clear."

The findings from individual scoping meetings from Gulf states will be presented at the council's next meeting, scheduled for Mobile during the first week of February. Fisher said the reef fishery agenda will be presented on Feb. 6. At that point, commissioners could decide if they are in favor of Amendment 39, which Fisher said is the measure that would allow regional management.

But even if it passes, Fisher said it could be more than a year before the action is enforceable.

"It's a slower process than something that would be done with (the Louisiana Department of) Wildlife & Fisheries," he said. "But you won't pull the wool over anyone's eyes. It could take a year or more, and will probably have to be ratified by each state's (fisheries agency.)"

It would be a worthwhile wait, though, Fisher said.

"We have a long way to go before we have a document," he said. "But ideally, it would be the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries working in concert with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission where we can establish a structure for the fishery. We would control the starting date, the bag limit. Baton Rouge would control the structure."

Comments about fishing regulations can be sent to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council at gulfcouncil@gulfcouncil.org. Fisher can be reached at mfisher@wlf.la.gov.