First let me admit, though it’s embarrassing in some ways, that I’ve never caught a red snapper.
I’d like to hook up with an offshore charter and do that. Maybe this summer.
But it might take an act of Congress or ruling from a federal court.
You think I’m kidding.
Exotic looking and tasty, red snapper live out in the Gulf of Mexico. Way out. Mostly out beyond the state’s 9-mile limit. Out where the National Marine Fisheries Service decides what we can fish for, when and for how long.
This year the NMFS is thinking about nine days. Right. Not much. It was 46 days last year.
But the folks at NMFS think the red snapper population needs a break.
A lot of folks in Texas and Louisiana think NMFS should take a break, and so they’ve gone to court to settle the matter.
On one side you have the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its Louisiana counterpart. On the other you have the NMFS and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which has representatives from every state with any coastline on the Gulf.
And among them is a struggle over who has ultimate control over wildlife management in the Gulf of Mexico.
Robin Riechers, head of coastal fisheries at TPWD, says the western gulf snapper populations are bigger and healthier than those in the eastern gulf and that Texas and Louisiana should be allowed to reap the benefits of successful management with more fishing time in federal waters each summer. Texas allows year-round fishing within the 9-mile zone.
Others say the population is stressed and a break is in order.
The truth is nobody really knows what the situation is. We are forced to rely on historical data on landings and harvest for information about red snapper populations and just how many fish we should be taking. There’s no other way to come up with a picture of the health of the fish or to control how much harvest we’re going to allow each year.
I tend to trust the coastal biologists at TPWD. They’ve managed to repair and restore other ravaged fish stocks from speckled trout to red drum that suffered at the hands of a fishing world, both commercial and recreational, that looked at saltwater as a bottomless live well that couldn’t be depleted.
We’ve proven that theory to be false and red snapper was one fish variety that helped, once they’d been pushed to the brink of doom. Don’t forget that we’ve had to take extreme measures, mostly within the last 35 years, to protect flounder, redfish, trout, red snapper and even shrimp.
They were over-fished, over-harvested and in some cases loved nearly out of existence. It has taken the cooperative efforts of all the gulf fisheries states to start them back toward something with a smidgen of resemblance to the fishery that once was.
It’s still a slow go. The Texas limit on red snapper is 4 fish per day, and they have to be at least 15 inches long. The federal limit is 2 fish per day, and they have to be at least 16 inches long. Commercial fishermen are allowed 365 days each year to meet their quotas, which amount to 51 percent of allowable red snapper catches in the gulf.
I guess all of this will play out in court testimony and negotiations seeking a settlement, if the NMFS sticks with its 9-day season recommendation. There will be finger pointing and howls of state’s rights and all kinds of off-point nonsense. The federal government already has control over migratory birds like ducks and geese and doves. This isn’t so much about who is in control as what the controls should be.
At the moment, it looks like the fate of fish and animals and people’s access to them may wind up in the hands of a judge somewhere, which is what we don’t need.
“The (TPWD Commission) has made it clear that we need to do what we can to protect the interest of recreational fishermen (in Texas),” Riechers says.
I think I agree. But, first I need to catch a red snapper.