The looming battle between private fishermen and for-hire charter and head boat captains to help determine how the red snapper recreational quota will be divided isn’t a great scenario for either side, according to a Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council member.
Dr. Bob Shipp, a marine sciences professor at the University of South Alabama, said the prospect of what has been called ‘sector separation’ will pit private fishermen against charter captains who formerly shared the recreational quota.
“I don’t think it’s wise to split the recreationals, because rather than a united front in Congress to get some of these messes straightened out, they’re really squabbling with each other over this and strategically, I think that’s kind of a bad thing,” Shipp said.
A series of public hearings will be held from Texas to Florida starting next month to discuss Reef Fish Amendment 40 and sector separation, with Louisiana’s meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 18 at the Hyatt Place Baton Rouge, located at 6080 Bluebonnet Boulevard.
The roughly 5.5 million pounds allotted to recreationals would be split between the two groups if the amendment is ultimately approved, Shipp said.
“The way that would work is there would be a split based on some historical catch, and that’s yet to be decided by the Council, but it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 54 percent would go to the private guys and 46 percent would go to the for-hire guys,” Shipp said. “The fundamental difference is that the 46 percent that goes to the for-hire guys is going to be translated into numbers of fish per hire guy.
“So a head boat or a charter boat might get 1,000 or 2,000 snapper that they can fish anytime of the year they want, but they’re limited by that number of snapper. Whereas the private recreational guys are still going to be constrained to whatever the season turns out to be. That’s the proposal. Now whether that passes or not we’ll have to see, but that’s the proposal.”
Shipp said most charter guides are in favor of the amendment because even though they don’t get more fish, they get to fish whenever they want to.
“From the tourist industry point of view, that would be a good thing,” he said.
But one downside is a current clause in the Magnuson Act that shuts down the entire recreational sector once the quota is deemed to have been met.
“So if a charter guy is holding on to some of his quota for the fall and suddenly the quota is filled, he loses it,” Shipp said. “He’s not allowed to fish the snapper that were ‘given to him.'”
The full Council meets Aug. 25 in Biloxi and will receive all of the public comments taken across the Gulf Coast earlier in the month.
If Amendment 40 happens to pass, Shipp doesn’t think it would go into effect next year.
“The way things move slowly, I doubt it would be ready for 2015,” he said. “It would be more like 2016.”
One scenario that Shipp said could help clean up the entire red snapper mess would be for the federal government to recognize state waters out to 9 miles for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, which is a distinct possibility in the current version of the revised Magnuson Act going through Congress.
Texas and Florida state waters are both currently recognized at 9 miles, he said.
“If that occurs, every Gulf state will have 9 miles and the entire quota will be caught in state waters,” he said. “There will not be any federal fishery.
“In my opinion, that’s the best thing that could happen because it would be a strong move towards state management and that’s what we need. We need state management beyond 9 miles. We need state management out to 200 miles for red snapper because the states do so much of a better job of managing their fish than the Feds do. So this would be a giant step towards state management, and I think that’s going to be the ultimate solution to this problem.”