GULF STATES NOW RULE RED SNAPPER SEAS
Amendment 50 Big Win For Louisiana Offshore Anglers
story by Ashley Wethey, LDWF Public Information
Red snapper fishing has a history of being a hot issue amongst the Gulf states, with seasons getting shorter and shorter and fish getting bigger and more numerous. After years of decreasing fishing seasons, despite a rebuilding red snapper stock, it was clear that the status quo federal management approach was leaving Louisiana anglers hoping for a change.
That all changed at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s most recent meeting in early April, when they finally surrendered management control over red snapper with the passage of Amendment 50. With the approval of the Secretary of Commerce, this action will give the five Gulf states control over each state’s snapper season, allowing leeway in size and bag limits within certain federal guidelines.
Amendment 50 drew a unanimous vote from the 17-member group representing Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Louisiana now has total control of private recreational red snapper fishing in state and federal waters, meaning recreational anglers will now have increased opportunities to harvest red snapper, a species once nearly depleted in the Gulf. It’s a win for the red snapper stock and a win for Louisiana.
“This decision is the result of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ directive to me and the LDWF staff to get this done for our anglers,” said Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet. “Now we will show that Louisiana can manage effectively, and that we have all of the intangibles to make this work.”
Gov. Edwards, an avid fisherman, said that the vote is extra special for him.
“This is a victory for our anglers,” said Gov. Edwards. “Very shortly, they will be able to spend more time fishing for red snapper on the water in our beautiful Sportsman’s Paradise. One of my goals was to have our state manage red snapper in both state and federal waters. I’m very thankful to our Wildlife and Fisheries leadership, our anglers, congressional delegation and fishing organizations who helped to make this happen.”
Reaching this pivotal point in fisheries management has been years in the making. Louisiana’s LA Creel program, which closely monitors recreational landings of red snapper, helped pave the way for the Council’s ultimate approval of Amendment 50.
Efforts began back at the June 2016 GMFMC meeting in Florida, where LDWF guided the successful passage of a motion to begin work on a plan to establish state management of red snapper for the private recreational sector. The following year, NOAA Fisheries announced the certification of the department’s LA Creel survey design. LA Creel is a critical component to managing red snapper harvest because it makes landings data available more quickly than was possible with NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) and is more flexible and responsive to management needs.
Currently, Louisiana is operating under its second year of an Exempted Fishing Permit that authorizes activities that would otherwise be prohibited by federal fishery regulations for limited testing, data collection, exploratory fishing and other purposes. Under this two-year pilot EFP study, the private recreational red snapper fishing season structure was delegated to LDWF, and Louisiana set its own season. The department was able to provide recreational anglers with 42 days of red snapper fishing in federal waters in 2017 and 60 days in 2018, an increase from the 11 days available in 2016, when LDWF first began working on this plan.
The EFP also allowed LDWF to collect data from anglers on how they want to distribute their effort and whether electronic reporting can help decrease uncertainty (i.e. error) around our harvest estimate. Under the EFP, the department was able to gather these data without impacting other states and without sacrifices from our participants.
A significant benefit of the EFP working in combination with LA Creel was that Louisiana private anglers had their own quota that included both state and federal waters. Previously, NOAA estimated how long it would it would take for anglers throughout the Gulf to harvest the quota based on prior years’ information. Those estimates were unable to take current conditions into account, leading to over-runs. The EFP showed that Louisiana could manage the season with nearly a perfect catch-to-allocation result.
Patrick Banks, the assistant secretary of fisheries, who has led the negotiations at the Gulf Council, said the old system of federal management often left Louisiana anglers at a disadvantage. Weather was usually better in the eastern Gulf, which allowed anglers in Florida and Alabama to have a greater chance of catching a large share of fish. Louisiana anglers had less opportunity to fish, and anglers across the Gulf were feeling forced to go out more often than normal because of the short seasons. Parsing out Louisiana’s quota through historical averages removed us from the ‘race for fish’ and allows us to catch our own quota at our own pace.
“Now we have a certain amount of fish reserved just for us. Our Wildlife and Fisheries Commission sets the season for our anglers to catch that set amount of fish and they can set a season whenever they want that best fits our anglers desires and ensures responsible harvest levels,” Banks said.
Banks also explained that with the passage of Amendment 50, any Gulf state that exceeds its quota in a season must “pay it back” the following year or allow the carry over of uncaught quota the following season.
What Happens Now?
State management will begin with the 2020 private recreational red snapper season. Anglers should see fishing seasons similar to what they experienced in 2018 and 2019. LDWF also fought successfully at the Gulf Council meeting for Louisiana’s historical 19.1 percent of the private recreational red snapper quota, which will result in an allocation of 816,439 pounds in 2019. By comparison, Louisiana private anglers caught approximately 738,000 pounds during the 2018 season.
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will establish rules for the state’s red snapper fishery. The department will manage the resource effectively and have the ability to close the season quickly, when needed, to prevent overfishing. The Commission now has the authority to set seasons, bag and size limits, and other management regulations for private recreational red snapper fishing in federal waters (out to 200 nautical miles).
Louisiana will continue to manage the red snapper season in a responsible fashion by utilizing LA Creel data to closely monitor harvest to close the season once our quota is met. LDWF continues to encourage anglers to participate in voluntary electronic reporting of their red snapper fishing activities. Electronic reporting is being tested as a more efficient and effective method to collect harvest data than traditional phone and email methods.
Hopefully the passage of Amendment 50 will pave the way for future localized management of the Gulf’s fisheries. As far as red snapper is concerned, let’s just say it’s been a long time coming and a very needed change.
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