E veryone seems to be seeing red over snappers in the Gulf of Mexico.
State fisheries officials claim that the majority of red snappers caught by recreational anglers come from federal waters while federal officials with fisheries oversight claim the exact opposite. Each side also has their own data to back up their assertions, for whatever that’s worth.
In the most stunning move they have ever made, NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council enacted a three-day season for private anglers targeting red snappers in Gulf waters in 2017. That season ran last month—June 1 through 4—and was the shortest recreational snapper season in history. For comparison, the federally permitted for-hire component season will run 49 days in federal waters, continuing this month.
NOAA Fisheries, citing an overage of more than 100,000 pounds of red snapper in last year’s recreational quota, pointed to numerous factors for its historic decision. Among these were noting more efficient recreational anglers and highlighting state frameworks, including those in Texas, that aren’t compliant with federal regulations.
It should be noted that the bag limit in federal waters remains two fish that are at least 16 inches long, while the daily framework in Texas state waters — where fishing is allowed year-round — is four fish which must be at least 15 inches.
However, more than 95 percent of the red snappers landed in Texas come from federal waters, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department figures. Most of that catch—about 80 percent—comes from head boats, which take numerous paying clients offshore.
In Texas, federal waters begin nine nautical miles from the coast and extend to 200 nautical miles.
Mark Ray, chairman of CCA Texas, testified recently before a Congressional hearing on federal management of the red snapper fishery in the Gulf, calling it a “man-made fishery management disaster.”
“By any measure, the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico should be held up as a shining example of proper management and good conservation,” Ray said. “But as this hearing demonstrates, that is not the case. We aren’t here today to highlight a conservation success story.
“After decades under intense federal management, this is the best that anglers can hope for—a three-day season in federal waters in 2017. I don’t think anyone would declare the current situation a success. All we ask is for is a system that allows all stakeholders the best opportunity to enjoy and use those resources.”
Although fisheries officials and fisheries conservation groups continue to promote their own opinions, NOAA Fisheries also is promoting its enforcement of red snapper fishing regulations, and dropping the hammer on those found to be in violation of catch figures.
“Last year’s red snapper-focused enforcement activities resulted in NOAA Enforcement taking an enforcement action on more than 120 separate violations, with most occurring during a time when the federal season was closed,” according to an agency report. “In response, the NOAA Office of General Counsel has doubled the penalty for red snapper violations in the commercial and recreational fisheries this season.”
For red snapper violations that involve fish caught in federal waters during a closed season, that are over the catch limit, undersized or filleted at sea, the penalty now starts at $500 per violation, plus an additional $50 per fish—up to the first 20 fish—associated with each violation. For more serious violations involving a larger number of red snappers, where there is a history of past violations or other extenuating circumstances, penalties may be assessed at a much higher amount, according to the report.
There may be no long-term solution to red snapper fisheries management in the Gulf, but all groups involved are doing their best to promote their message. Let’s hope for the sake of one of the most important fisheries for Texas anglers, that those messages ultimately end up in some real teamwork for the sake of future conservation.
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—BY Will Leschper
In November 2015, an observant fishing guide reported the first outbreak of invasive giant salvinia on Lake Fork. Thanks to his keen eye and a rapid response from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department aquatic invasive species team, after just two years of treatment Lake Fork appears to be giant salvinia-freeBut many affected Texas lakes don’t have that happy ending. Due to its ability to rapidly reproduce, once giant salvinia gains a significant foothold in a lake “it’s a genie that can’t be put back in the bottle,” said TPWD inland fisheries biologist Kevin Storey.
“It’s important to realize that giant salvinia is not something that you can dismiss – it can potentially be in a system long-term,” Storey said. “Not only is it a danger to our ecosystems, giant salvinia management creates a lot of cost for us as a conservation agency.”
Giant salvinia is currently found in 17 Texas lakes, with the most expansive infestations occurring at Caddo Lake, Toledo Bend Reservoir, Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Lake Striker and Lake Texana. Since 2015, TPWD and partners have treated 17,294 acres at these lakes with a combination of floating booms, mechanical removal, boat ramp closures, herbicide applications and the release of giant salvinia weevils, a natural biocontrol for the plant.
With cooperation from anglers and recreational boaters, this harmful plant can be prevented from spreading to new locations. In addition to reporting sightings of the plant, boaters can make sure their equipment isn’t giving giant salvinia a free ride from lake to lake, as was the case with the Lake Fork outbreak.
“The giant salvinia at Lake Fork was likely introduced from a boat trailer carrying it from another infested lake,” Storey said. “Someone was either unaware or unconcerned that it was on their boat trailer, and that inattention created a huge headache for others who use that resource.”
According to TPWD Boater Education Manager Tim Spice, stopping aquatic invasive species from spreading starts with properly cleaning, draining and drying equipment, boats and paddlecraft. Spice said this is an especially important precaution for boaters to take if they will be visiting different bodies of water during the same season.
“Cleaning and draining your boat before you leave the lake is easy, only takes a few minutes, and is very important for protecting lakes,” Spice said. “It could make a difference in preserving the opportunities our children and grandchildren will have on the lakes we love.”