Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have agreed on what is the longest red snapper season in many years.
Under the Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) program, recreational anglers fishing from private vessels will have an 82-day season in federal waters and a 365-day season in state waters off the coast of Texas. That began June 1.
Charter for-hire (CFH) vessels are not included in the EFP, therefore recreational anglers fishing on a charter trip will have roughly a 50-day season in federal waters.
“CCA has been a strong proponent of state management of red snapper for years, so this is a very exciting first step toward more predictable and enjoyable seasons for recreational anglers,” said Mark Ray, chairman of CCA Texas. “We appreciate the hard work that TPWD put into this plan. Given the box that federal management has put this fishery in, this EFP is very likely the only way private recreational anglers would even have a season in 2018, and the state managed to produce the longest red snapper season in years.”
The only negative development was the removal of the CFH from the EFP, which was not the desire of TPWD nor that of the public. Texas anglers dominated the public comment period on the Federal Register, accounting for 47.1% of nearly 1,700 comments received. A total of 98.8% of the individuals from Texas who commented were in favor of keeping the CFH in the EFP. Despite this overwhelming majority, NMFS once again ignored the voice of the recreational angler and forced Texas and Louisiana to remove the CFH from their plans, a move that segregates the recreational fishery.
“The initial inclusion of the CFH sector in the EFP confirmed that TPWD does not play favorites within the recreational fishing community and they clearly wanted to provide all anglers equal opportunity to participate in this fishery,” said Robby Byers, executive director of CCA Texas. “We believe that TPWD has the ability to provide greater access to this fishery to both private recreational anglers and the anglers who use charter boats, so we are disappointed that NMFS forced TPWD to remove the CFH from the EFP.”
The EFP will allow TPWD the opportunity to demonstrate they have the ability to effectively manage the recreational red snapper fishery by using current data collection methods and incorporating new reporting tools such as i-Snapper.
“Concertedly, the fishery-dependent and fishery-independent tools utilized by TPWD have proven to be effective in the management of recreationally and commercially valuable fisheries,” said Shane Bonnot, advocacy director of CCA Texas. “Under this EFP they can utilize these tools to make management decisions to stay within the quota, and they have the flexibility to propose red snapper season dates that are generally more suitable for offshore navigation and/or in conjunction with historical high-use dates. We encourage all anglers to assist TPWD by participating in dock-side creel surveys and utilizing the i-Snapper app to report their snapper landings.”
The state management EFPs are a start to figuring out how to bring sanity back to the red snapper fishery. If utilized properly, they should serve as a model for the Gulf Council in the development of the more comprehensive state management amendments that will hopefully give states more authority over all aspects of the fishery off their coasts.
“At this point, it is important that the Gulf Council refrains from making any far-reaching decisions on red snapper and other reef fish that could fundamentally impact management in the future until the results of these EFPs are analyzed and presented to the public for consideration,” stated Bonnot. “If the states are going to invest the resources to go down this path, then the council should not take any action that will tie their hands in the future. We should allow the state management concept a fair chance to show what it can achieve.”
The EFP will begin June 1, 2018 and continue through December 31, 2019 with no anticipated changes to current state and federal bag and size limits.