The National Marine Fisheries Service initiated its Gulf of Mexico Collaborative Pilot Program on Jan. 1. The program is a two-year experiment to see how workable a catch quota system will work for party boats, also called head boats.

Seventeen vessels along the Gulf Coast were selected for the project, and one of them is based here in Galveston — Williams Party Boat’s Capt. John.

The chosen boats in the program are allowed to fish for red snapper and gag grouper year-round. Once they catch their quota, that’s it for the year. Size and bag limit regulations must be adhered to for all species of fish, including red snapper and gag. 

The primary difference is that the selected boats do not have to limit their fishing to the designated seasons, which for red snapper begins June 1 and lasts until early July. All other recreational vessels, including other party boats, are limited to the designated seasons which for red snapper is a very short time. All vessels must comply with the February through March shallow-water grouper harvest prohibition of 20 fathoms. 

Participating vessels must retain all legal-size fish that appear to be mortally injured and must cease targeting red snapper and gag when they have no remaining quota for their vessel.

Last Wednesday, I visited with Capt. Jill Williams, a member of the Williams family that owns the Capt. John, and asked her about the experiment. She said that the Capt. John will be making selective trips beginning Jan. 18. She appeared excited about being involved in this program and, like all of the others in the experiment, is waiting to see how it out.

On the fishing scene, trout were back under the lights at several spots Wednesday night, which is encouraging. Thursday morning, there were a lot of birds working Offatts Bayou and offshoots thereof, such as Lake Madeline.

The observation I made in Lake Madeline was that the pelicans, cormorants and sea gulls were feeding on small shad-looking fish, and no game fish were observed floating.

Capt. Joe Kent is a columnist for The Daily News. To get your catch in the Reel Report, call 409-683-5273 or email

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