Franklin County fishermen will join recreational anglers along the Gulf Coast this Sunday in a floating protest against strict federal limits on red snapper fishing they say are hurting businesses throughout the region.
A boat rally is planned for this Sunday, June 4, from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. at East Pass off Dog Island, at coordinates 29.776563, -84.685742.
Organizers are asked to bring their boat, the kids, and large signs supporting recreational anglers’ rights. More information can be found on Facebook at “Lengthen Federal Red Snapper.”
The boat rally is among scores of such demonstrations being organized in fishing ports in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, with boat owners and captains planning to gather in marinas and passes to show their opposition to the rule.
The demonstration will be held a day after the federal three-day fishing season ends for red snapper, one of the region’s most popular catches.
An organizer of the Alabama protest at Orange Beach, Justin Fadalla, said the demonstrations are the start of a movement, yet they won’t provide an answer to a long-simmering problem.
“Gathering in Perdido Pass is not going to change anything,” he said. “But I hope it gets the word out there that we’re mad.”
The short season is hurting marinas, tackle shops and marine services companies all over the Gulf Coast, Fadalla said.
Federal regulators say the tight limit is needed to protect the fish, but opponents accuse scientists of using flawed science to set the rule.
Mayor Tony Kennon of Orange Beach, Alabama, said he supports the protest and will have city marine officers on hand since hundreds of boats could participate. “This has a chance to be absolutely huge because the rec fishermen outnumber the charter guys 20-to-1,” said Kennon, himself a recreational angler.
Members of Congress are urging Director of Commerce Earl Comstock to use “any authority” at his disposal to extend the federal red snapper season for private anglers.
A letter sent to the director urges him to extend the season to include Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in June, July and August as well as July 3 and July 4, adding the change would be consistent with the overall health of the stock.
“While this proposal does not address the longer term issues, we hope this proposed solution for the 2017 season will be something you will strongly consider,” the letter says.
The letter has been signed by Rep. Neal Dunn and Rep. Matt Gaetz in addition to 11 other congressmen. Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson have sent a similar letter to the acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The proposed season for red snapper is June 1-3, a measure the National Marine Fisheries Service said was necessary to pay back overfishing and stay within the limits of this year’s allocated catch.
Louisiana proposing an experiment
Louisiana wildlife officials are proposing an experiment that someday could enable private recreational fishermen to catch highly sought Gulf of Mexico red snapper any time of year in federal waters.
“I asked Wildlife and Fisheries to develop a program that could eventually lead to Louisiana controlling red snapper fishing, even in what is determined to be federal waters,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a news release last week. “This pilot program could not come soon enough as the federal government has limited anglers to just three days to fish red snapper this year.”
If the proposal is approved by federal regulators, Louisiana would choose 150 people to participate in a pilot program: They could fish in federal waters any time of the year, with an annual limit of 20 red snapper, Assistant Secretary of Wildlife and Fisheries Patrick Banks said.
They would have to use their Smartphones, equipped with an app enabling them to record and send data about the catch in real time.
State officials hope to win federal approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service in time to launch the experimental program in 2018, Banks said.
State red snapper seasons in Louisiana run longer than the brief federal seasons. Last year, Louisiana had a 272-day season within its waters up to nine miles from the coast. But, Banks said, red snapper are found in deeper water, often beyond the nine-mile line.
Banks said the goal of the program is to show federal regulators the state can effectively manage the federal resource. “The feds aren’t going to give us authority over those federal waters until we prove to them that we know how to actively manage that fishery,” he said.
Red snapper season opens June 1 in federal waters, which are most popular for anglers because of their depth. While recreational boats will get to fish for only three days, charter boat captains will have a 49-day season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration establishes rules each year on how many fish of different varieties can be caught in Gulf waters.
Federal regulators have said they set the strict limit this year because private anglers are expected to take 81 percent of their 3-million-pound quota out of state waters, where seasons range from 66 days off Alabama to year-round off Texas. That leaves relatively few fish to be caught farther offshore in federal waters.
Critics of the rule say federal scientists who claim red snapper need protections fail to take into account fish that live on artificial reefs constructed by Alabama and other states.