Ensuring viable red snapper fishing requires accurate data on the size of the fishery and the number of fish being caught. Clearly, everyone wants a strong fishery for years and generations to come. Presently, the National Marine Fisheries Service evaluates the data, data which is often challenged, to determine how many red snapper can be caught and, hence, the length of fishing season in federal waters (9 to 200 miles offshore).

In 2017, NMFS set the red snapper fishing season at three days. A lack of credibility in the data and the calculations used, the severe economic costs from squeezing the recreational fishing and boating industries nearly out of existence, and an initiative by Congressman Garrett Graves, a Louisiana Republican, caused the Secretary of Commerce to override the three day fishing season to 39 days in federal waters in exchange for giving up 52 days in state waters. The current conjecture is that NMFS will now sanction less than three days of fishing for our recreational folks in 2018 (with perhaps yet another intervention by the Secretary of Commerce).

In preparation for this, NMFS has floated a pilot program called Exempted Fishing Permits. In short, this permit will allow fishing activity, which would otherwise be prohibited and is designed for improved data collection, relying upon participation by the Gulf Coast states.

One component is the mandatory use of electronic catch reporting, which could have fishermen report the number of fishing days, departure/arrival information, the number of fish caught, and their size. Although not required, it could also capture data on the number of fish caught and released and how many survived.

To participate, anglers would be required to agree to be part of the permit program. A downside of the program is that once the reports show the allocation levels have been reached, the participants could be prohibited from additional fishing — this could potentially set off a “fishing derby,” which doesn’t benefit anybody. Both recreational, head boat and charter fishermen would be included in the permit pilot program.

The program might be a step in the right direction, if, for nothing else, that it will help get more accurate data on the fishery and catch information.

One of my goals is to give the recreational and charter boat fishermen the freedom to choose when they want to fish. Establishing a limit of “XYZ” days and telling fishermen what days they can fish is counterproductive. Instead, perhaps we should consider a system that specifies “XYZ” number of days during the year and have the fishermen report which days they actually go out.

This does a couple of things:

First, it gives fishermen the freedom to fit fishing into their own schedule.

Second, the reports will provide data on when red snapper fishing is taking place. Combined with Exempted Fishing Permits, there could be a wealth of information to help NMFS improve the establishment of appropriate allocations.

Bill Sargent is running in the Republican primary for Texas Congressional District 14.

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(5) comments

Randy Chapman

Wouldn't it be simpler to just have the commercial fishermen report their catches? It would seem that they would be a better yardstick of the overall fishery.

Bill Cochrane

Randy, there already is a system in place for commercial reporting called the IFQ.
Problem, most people like you think there are no rules for commercial fishing, when in fact there are many more rules than recreational snapper fishing.
The vessel must report when they leave. They must report when, where, and how many pounds they are unloading. Law enforcement must receive a three-hour landing location so they can check weights. The fish house reports the weight to NMFS and that weight is deducted from the vessels account. All in real time.

Randy Chapman

Bill, I really don't get it. How much more data do they need? I never thought there were no rules, but I would have thought the thousands of pounds commercial fishermen take per trip would give a better idea of the overall fishery health than spotty small reports of recreational fishermen. Sure, I understand about party boats being required, but the small boats that may take 8-1o fish total? Can they really be much of indicator?

Randy Chapman

I worded my comment wrong. I should have said, "use the data provided by commercial fishermen."

Bill Cochrane

Randy, the data from commercial snapper boats would not be much help, as the average commercial boats fish in depths of 85 to 250 feet. The average recreational boat fishes in 40 to 60 feet. Before the Individual Fishing Quota system was established, there was a derby system, limiting the days the commercial boats could fish, which meant they fished as close in as possible to make a trip. Now they fish much farther out because there are no time restraints. That is one of the reasons there is more snapper is 40 to 60 feet right now.

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