The news Thursday afternoon that recreational private anglers in the Gulf of Mexico will get a 10-day red snapper season in early June — while federal for-hire charter captains will have a 44-day season stretching into July — generated lots of responses in the wake of the announcement.
“It wasn’t a surprise. We knew it was coming,” said Randy Pausina, head of fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “I guess the bottom line is it’s broke. It’s comical.
“I think anybody that doesn’t know anything about the situation would say, “How do commercials get 365 days, how do charters get 44 days and how do recs get 10 days? It’s insane.”
Pausina didn’t rule out the possibility that Louisiana's daily creel limit could increase for red snapper in state waters as the season progresses. The state season started on March 20 and has been going seven days a week since then.
“We’re going to watch that. If it looks like later on we’re not going to get what we’re forecasted by NOAA to catch, then we will increase the creel,” he said. “And it’s not a smack in the face to them — it’s showing them how to do it right. The state of Louisiana gets ‘X’ amount of fish. If we’re fishing too much, we can slow the harvest down without closing the season by shrinking the creel, or going to less days a week. Or if there’s hurricanes or bad weather, we can increase the creel, or we can go from three days to seven days a week and keep fishing. It’s just that simple.”
Pausina said part of why Louisiana allowed red snapper fishing in state waters last year was because of the real-time data his department receives through the LA Creel Program to closely monitor the harvest.
“We were forecast to harvest somewhere around our historical landings - about 14-percent, which is about 700,000 pounds,” he said. “If we’d have fished just the nine-day season last year, we would have gotten about 150,000 pounds, not the 700-plus-thousand pounds we were forecast to harvest by NOAA.
“That’s why we went inconsistent. That’s why we started fishing at Easter last year and we fished until December — and we still didn’t get the 700,000 pounds. But with their math — whatever schools they went to —we can only have nine days. I don’t know where that other 400,000 pounds went —it went somewhere — but it didn’t get landed in Louisiana, and I think most of the states can say that to an extent. Somethings not right here, and it stinks to high hell.”
David Cresson, the executive director for Coastal Conservation Association-Louisiana, also wasn't surprised by the news.
“Certainly it’s disappointing, but I don’t know how anybody could be surprised,” Cresson said. “We all know when you plug faulty numbers into a broken system, you’re going to come up with a nonsensical answer.”
CCA filed suit last week in U.S. District Court to prevent implementation of Reef Fish Amendment 40, or sector separation, which effectively splits the recreational sector of the Gulf’s red snapper fishery between private anglers and for-hire charter and head boat operators.
The suit has yet to be heard, Cresson said.
According to a release Thursday afternoon from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, private anglers will have a 10-day season in federal waters with a catch target of 3.234 million pounds of red snapper, and will fish from Monday, June 1, at 12:01 a.m. until Thursday, June 11, at 12:01 a.m.
Federal for-hire vessels will have a 44-day season in federal waters and divide 2.371 mp from Monday, June 1, at 12:01 a.m. until Wednesday, July 15, at 12:01 a.m.
“Today’s announcement is further evidence that these fish would be much more effectively managed by state fisheries managers who are much more tuned in to the resource and the fishing public,” Cresson said. “We’ve been saying this for a while now: If you continue to use a broken system with insufficient data, and you continue to ignore common sense and economic indicators, you’re certainly going to come up with answers that are hard to explain.
“Today’s announcement is a perfect example of that.”
Capt. Tommy Pellegrin, who operates Custom Charters out of Dularge and Cocodrie, believes pitting private recreational anglers against charter captains will be bad in the long run.
“It’s such a good thing and a bad thing all at the same time. It’s great that the charters get 44 days, but it’s really bad that they separated them from the private sector. You’ve had issues between the recreationals and commercials forever — every kind of fishery always has issues like that — but now you made it between all three entities,” Pellegrin said. “Now you’re going to have recreational people mad at the charter people, which is never good because the charter guys depend on them for business.”
Pellegrin also foresees issues between big-time charter operators and the smaller, one-man businesses that are more common in Louisiana.
“It’s eventually going to cause a lot of problems, because if it continues, the big, big charter operations will end up buying out all the little ones, and you’ll end up with a monopoly of a few of the big guys owning all of the red snapper in the Gulf,” he said. “It’s not going in the right direction. It’s just a big old mess.
“What needs to happen is the state needs to be able to govern both the state and federal waters off its coast.”