E very indication as I write this is that 2017 will begin a “brave new world” for citizens of the United States of America – in one way or another. Because of this, it seems appropriate to look at some legislative matters that will be having an effect on the lives and activities of a number of fishermen.
To start with sort of good news, commercial vessel operators – down to, but not including, “six pack” charter fishing operations – have known for some time of the pending requirement for a VHF DSC – Digital Selective Calling – marine radio on board. This is a new system being initiated for safety, which will “automatically” broadcast the location of a vessel making a distress call, so the caller doesn’t have to accurately determine his location. Good move, don’t we think? The problem with this arises when we see there are two types of DSC radio – the Class D designed for recreational vessels and the much more expensive Class A intended for large commercial vessels and shipping. The Coast Guard has been issuing individual exemptions allowing smaller vessels to use the Class D radio, because it basically does the same job as the more expensive Class A as long as the unit either contains an integral GPS or is connected to a GPS. Thanks to a lot of lobbying pressure, including an effort by the National Charterboat Operators Association which had been going on since I was still on their Board of Directors, the FCC has agreed with the Coast Guard on an across-the-board exemption to allow Class D units to be used on passenger ships and small passenger vessels carrying 6 or more passengers for hire. This appears to be a rare instance of sensible government regulation that provides increased safety for the industry without imposing an undue financial burden on smaller businesses.
The next subject to examine is one of great importance – the scheduling – or not – or the next Gray Triggerfish stock assessment. The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council passed a resolution in June of 2016 to hold a triggerfish stock assessment in 2017, and that it should be a “benchmark-track” assessment. It seems that what to actually call the assessment, benchmark or otherwise, was heavily debated at the time. Apparently “gaps” in knowledge that were identified in the last triggerfish assessment are still an issue, with little data available to resolve them. New data on circle hook use and other information should be available for a new assessment, should one be scheduled. Also, an updated assessment could be completed in time to allow new “projections’ to be produced by the end of the 2017 – 2019 projection period.
The Gulf Council voted 21 to 3, with one abstention, to recommend that an updated triggerfish assessment be conducted at the earliest opportunity – which would appear to be in the early fall of 2018. Personally, I was hoping the triggerfish data would be available before the 2016 Presidential Election, as this could be the issue that sways the results most dramatically.
Seriously, I have always been a champion of under-utilized fish species, and I have also been seen cleaning triggerfish at the dock. They are actually very good eating, although the work involved versus the amount of meat obtained from each fish is a bit of a bad trade off. They are also a bit ugly (and that is being kind). On the other hand, they fight hard, used to be easy to find and catch before the endangered red snapper began eating all the immature triggers, and many anglers probably don’t even know there is a limit on them (in the “reef fish aggregate limit). Personally, I’d rather catch a non-edible jack or bonito, for sport – and when the people who have so badly mismanaged the harvest of red snapper feel the need to “protect” triggerfish, our marine fisheries are in a bad way.
For those who fish in February, it is sort of a crap-shoot. I have seen bull reds caught in February, and also seen tarpon in the Galveston surf, but more common catches would be black drum at the end of the month, and various pan fish. Big black drum are also protected by size and bag limits, and aren’t much good to eat, anyway. Neither will most anglers want a “trophy” black drum mounted on the wall of their den. Still, they pull hard just by virtue of their size and weight, and if you just HAVE to fish, grab a long rod and a reel loaded with maybe 50# class line, find some blue crabs to quarter for bait, and enjoy!
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Location: Texas City Dike, Galveston Jetties, Sea Wolf Park.
Species: Black drum will be most common, especially later in the month, but croaker are a possibility.
Bait: For big drum, quartered blue crabs are best, but they have been caught on shrimp and cut bait.
Best Time: Tidal movement is key, incoming or outgoing.
Email Mike Holmes at [email protected]