VETERANS DAY OUT
LDWF, Partners Provide Red Snapper Fishing Opportunity For Wounded, Disabled Military Personnel
story by Ashley Wethey, LDWF Public Information
As the sun began to rise over the Gulf of Mexico, a group of female military veterans from Louisiana launched out of Grand Isle on a chilly December morning in pursuit of one thing, landing red snapper. During the second weekend in December, with volunteer Emeric Watson in tow to captain and guide the crew, the ladies traveled 39 miles offshore to try their luck.
You’re probably asking yourself - red snapper fishing in December? Is snapper season even open during the winter?
When the 2018 regular fishing season came to a close on Aug. 12, Louisiana, using its highly accredited and federally approved LA Creel system, showed its state anglers took 99.2 percent of its allowed 700,000-pound-plus red snapper allowed limit. With less than 6,000 pounds of red snapper quota left over, reopening the season, even for one day, to the entire recreational fishing community was not an option, leaving Louisiana with a challenging decision to make.
Through the combined efforts of our department, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office, the Department of Veterans Affairs and a special push from CCA Louisiana, the group arrived at the idea to partner with Wounded War Heroes to host a special red snapper season for wounded and disabled military veterans. The timing of the announcement could not have been more fitting, as it immediately followed Veterans Day.
“Our anglers did such a great job helping our agency manage the red snapper catch numbers earlier this year, that now we are in a position to do something good for our wounded veterans. I could not be happier,” said LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Secretary Montoucet said the governor was quick to support the opportunity for the wounded military veterans. “He said, ‘Let’s make it happen.”
“We can never do enough to thank our veterans for their service to our country, but we’ll always try. I think our veterans will enjoy having the chance to catch the popular red snapper,” said Gov. Edwards, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. “I am proud to work with LDWF and LDVA on this joint effort. I hope our wounded veterans, who sacrificed so much for our country, will have a great time on their fishing trips. They deserve it, and it is a great way to ensure we catch our full allotment of red snapper in 2018.”
“Healing through nature and activities in the outdoors, like fishing, has been proven to be beneficial to veterans,” said LDVA Secretary Joey Strickland. “We are grateful to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his continued support of Louisiana’s veterans and to LDWF for giving the men and women who’ve served our country an opportunity for camaraderie and relaxation through these fishing opportunities.”
Deron Santiny, with the Wounded War Heroes organization, echoed Strickland’s comments. “Thank you for allowing the Wounded War Heroes to be a part of this event. It really means a lot,” said Santiny, who is also a commissioner of the Office of Veterans Affairs. “I know I speak for all of them in saying that you have no idea how much this means to us.”
The entire fishing community was in full support of the idea, including CCA Louisiana. The organization committed to assist the effort by recruiting volunteer CCA captains to take wounded veterans fishing.
“This is a very unique opportunity to give back to heroes who have given so much for us,” said CCA Louisiana CEO David Cresson. “CCA is proud to support this effort and encourages all of our members to donate their boats and their time to take a wounded veteran fishing.”
Was the trip a success? The answer is a resounding yes, but in more ways than one.
From a fishing perspective, the women limited out on red snapper and landed an assortment of other offshore species.
“The trip was a total success!” Louisiana Army National Guard veteran Tiffany Bittaglia commented. “I was so peaceful being on the water, and it gave me the opportunity to relax which isn’t something I get to do often. I would have never been able to take this kind of trip had it not been for this opportunity.”
As anglers, we fish for the thrill of it; sometimes it’s to fill a competitive need within us, and sometimes it’s simply to ease an empty stomach. For our disabled veterans, however, fishing can be much more, offering both physical and emotional rehabilitation.
Angella Lawrence, Marine Corps veteran said, “We had an extremely successful and fun trip, but more importantly, meeting one another and becoming friends was the most successful part of the trip. This trip provided me with an opportunity to meet and bond with other female veterans, not only from my service, but other services as well. We all bonded quickly and showed great team work and care for one another’s well being. We’ve all established a line of communication, shared stories, commonalities, and now have new experiences to share and have found new friendships.”
Alejandra Juan, LDVA Women Veterans Outreach Coordinator, and a veteran herself, accompanied the women for this unforgettable trip. “This was an incredible opportunity for women veterans, and I am so grateful to everyone that helped make this offshore fishing trip happen for veterans that otherwise would not have had this opportunity,” said Juan. “We braved the cold weather in order to catch our allotted red snapper and, more importantly, we were able to give women veterans a bonding opportunity of a lifetime.”
When asked would they go again, Lawrence was quick to answer, “Absolutely! Without a doubt, you don’t even need to ask me again. Just put my name down.”
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