The red snapper is popular among both commercial fishermen — those who catch fish for restaurants and grocery stores – and recreational anglers. It’s so popular that it’s in constant danger of being overfished.
As of now, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s quota gives the commercial sector 51 percent of the red snapper available to catch, and sport fishermen get 49 percent.
Now the Council is set to change that allocation. At their quarterly meeting this week in Houston, it voted an amendment out of committee that would give a bigger share to recreational fishermen.
Matt Smelser is with the Environmental Defense Fund, which opposes the change.
“If there were a million pound increase next year in the total allowable catch of red snapper, with this alternative, 75 percent of it will go recreational, 25 percent will go commercial. So over time, that pie, rather than being a 50-50 split, will become more and more of a recreational fishery.”
He says that undermines the efforts of commercial fishermen, who have helped the red snapper population in the Gulf to increase in the past years.
Buddy Guindon is the co-owner of Katie’s Seafood Market in Galveston. He says commercial fishermen like himself took a large reduction in their quotas to rebuild the fishery faster.
“As a result of that, we were supposed to reap the benefits of a rebuilt fishery. And now by the committee’s actions, they want to take us back to that time when we had given up our fish and they want to reward the recreational fishery.”
And he says while commercial fishermen have stayed within their catch limits, recreational anglers have overfished almost every year.
“While I don’t blame recreational fishermen, I blame managers for that problem. I don’t think you’re going to solve the problem by taking a few fish from the commercial fishermen, a percentage – probably not a few, a large percentage, 20 or 30 percent — and putting them into recreational fishery. It’s not going to extend their season.”
On the other side of the spectrum are recreational fishermen groups like the Coastal Conservation Association, or CCA. The group points to studies that show allocating a larger share of red snapper to sport fishermen benefits the U.S. economy.
Ted Venker with CCA says the Amendment as it was voted on only affects the red snapper surplus.
“So what you have is a situation where there are fewer commercial fishermen than ever catching more fish than they’ve ever caught. And so we’re looking at taking the increases over that amount and shifting to the recreational sector. So in this scenario it’s really a no-lose situation.”
He says only a total of 400 commercial fishermen who bought red snapper shares are allowed to catch that fish in the Gulf.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will hear public comments on this and other issues on Wednesday at the Westin Galleria.
On Thursday, the entire Council will decide if Amendment 28 will move forward to public hearings.