Loophole that lets anglers exceed snapper limits draws fire

Loophole that lets anglers exceed snapper limits draws fire

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Critics say catch share fishing experiences blur the line between commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Liz Pasch

Anglers in Texas are unleashing their creativity when it comes to getting around shortening seasons and shrinking quotas for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, but their actions are facing criticism.
The popular species has become a flashpoint in the debate over federal vs. regional management of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. In February, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council introduced the final draft of Amendment 39 to Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico, which would establish a regional management program for recreational red snapper fishing.
For now, though, the NOAA’s Fisheries Service sets the length of the federal recreational red snapper fishing season. Historically, the season began June 1st and continued until the quota was met. But 2014 saw one of the shortest federal seasons on record—just nine days. However, individual states can set their own season length for anglers fishing in state waters, and this is where things get interesting.
Texas, for example, pretty much ignores the federal season altogether. Recreational anglers in Texan waters, which extend nine miles out from the coastline, can fish for snapper year-round as long as they stay within their bag limit.
However, catch limits are routinely exceeded thanks to charter fishing companies operating what they call “catch share fishing experiences.” These companies, such as Galveston Sea Ventures in Galveston, Texas, have been allocated a set portion of the commercial red snapper fishery—a catch share—in the Gulf, but they do not operate as commercial fishermen. Instead, they ferry recreational anglers out to the fishing grounds and back, and when they return, their customers can buy as many fish as they’d like to take home. Call it what you will—a loophole or a gray area—it’s stirring passions on both sides.
According to Scott Hickman, owner of Circle H Outfitters and Charters in Galveston—another catch share fishing experience company—they sought out the legal requirements prior to launching their first trip and continue to strictly follow the rules as to what is mandated by both federal and Texas law enforcement. Hickman reiterates that his trips are not charters but commercial fishing trips during which people can enjoy the experience and only reel in fish if they want to.
The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), however, says that the growing popularity of catch share fishing does not bode well for the future of the fishery, as companies with commercial permits will be able to relentlessly fish near-shore fishing grounds. CCA Conservation Director, Ted Venker, claims the line between recreational and commercial fishing is no longer distinct, and that no one is protecting the public.
In April, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council stated that the 2016 recreational red snapper season is likely to be another short one running for as little as eight days, while charter boats operating in federal waters should see a longer season, between 38 and 56 days. For more information, visit: Sustainable Fisheries

By Del Gillis, Southern Boating Magazine June 2016