Unthinkable and insane. Crazy. Buffoonery and chaos. Those were just a few of the choice words officials used to describe yesterday’s announcement by NOAA Fisheries that the already-too-short recreational red snapper season in the Gulf had been cut by two more days.
“My reaction is, as I’ve told most everybody else, is this is insane,” said Dr. Bob Shipp, marine sciences professor at the University of South Alabama and member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. “It’s insane and the reason is we’re operating on a quota, so the healthier the stocks of fish are the quicker we blow through the quota. It’s a paradox. It’s an irony.
“If the stocks were in trouble and there weren’t any fish out there, we’d never get to the quota. But there are so many fish and they’re so big, as long as we have a quota system, this is what’s going to happen.”
The 11-day recreational season originally agreed upon in April almost immediately was cast into doubt when Louisiana opened state waters for red snapper seven days a week shortly after that Council vote.
The federal recreational season announced Wednesday begins at 12:01 a.m. on June 1 and closes at 12:01 a.m. on June 10, with a two-fish bag limit and 16-inch minimum total length size limit.
Shipp said the system itself was broken, so a new stock assessment really wouldn’t provide much relief in extending the recreational season.
“Let’s say if by some miracle they jacked it (the stock assessment) up 50 percent, then okay, we’ll have a 14-day season,” he said. “We’ve got to change the basic system.”
That literally would take an act of Congress, but Shipp hoped the spectacle of a nine-day season could be a tipping point for real change in the system.
“The Magnuson Act has got to be amended to get away from this quota system,” he said. “And the simplest and easiest solution would be to turn it over to the states.
Randy Pausina, head of fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said he had no regrets about the department’s move last month to open state waters seven days a week.
“I know we did the right thing,” Pausina said. “They like to do this because then it looks like Louisiana took days way from other states. In my opinion, it’s part of them pitting us against each other.
“At this point, it’s just total buffoonery. It’s pure madness. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Pausina agreed with Shipp, saying each individual state could do a better job of serving its constituents’ needs while overseeing the fishery.
“That way we could do the right thing and provide the bang for the buck – the best benefit for our state and for the fisheries and our constituents,” he said.
“Right now, that doesn’t happen. And in fact, it seems to be working against all those principles.”
Shipp said he had heard rumblings that other states might expand snapper fishing in their state waters in light of the nine-day season, which could potentially reduce the federal season even further.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s crazy” Shipp said.