Red Snapper Fishing Limits

Marine fisheries officials from the five Gulf states have adopted what one official says is a historic plan for rebuilding the shrinking red snapper population in the Gulf of Mexico. It drastically cuts red snapper catch limits and shortens the red snapper season. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The Gulf of Mexico red snapper is in crisis because it's been overfished for years by commercial and recreational fishermen. A Houston federal judge ruled in March that the National Marine Fisheries Service red snapper rebuilding plan was completely inadequate and ordered the agency to come up with a new plan by December. Last week, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, made up of state officials from the five gulf states, met in New Orleans and recommended that total allowable catches and the red snapper season be cut nearly 50 percent. Robin Reichers of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is on the council.

"The reduction in TAC is basically almost 50 percent, reducing the commercial catches down from about 4.6 million pounds to about 2.5 million pounds per year. And on the rec (recreational) side total catch would be down from about 4.5 million pounds to about 2.5 or 2.4 million pounds."

The allowable red snapper catch is divided about evenly between commercial and recreational fishermen, and Reichers says recreational anglers will really notice the difference.

"What that means in terms of bag limits for the recreational side is we're going to be looking at going from a four fish bag limit to a two fish bag limit, and the total number of season days that we're open will actually be reduced to about a 107 days or so."

That's down from the current 190 day season. Chris Dorsett of the Ocean Conservancy lobbied the council for these changes, and he also thinks it's historic.

"It was the first time probably in the history of this fishery where science-based catch limits were established, reductions are going to be made in shrimp trawl by-catch to ensure that we're fishing at sustainable levels and the population can rebuild back to a healthy level."

Robin Reichers says if the National Marine Fisheries Service accepts the recommendations, and there's no reason to think it won't, the plan will be posted publicly for a period of time to allow for public comment. Reichers says it could be in effect in time to meet the federal court deadline of December 12th. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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