Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Outdoors

Proposed red snapper rules spark debate

ST. PETE BEACH — Dave Markett has been fishing the Gulf of Mexico for more than 50 years, but the Tampa charter boat captain and former commercial fisherman fears his grandsons will not be able to do the same if federal fishery managers move ahead with new red snapper rules this month.

Markett, and more than 100 angry recreational fishermen, packed into a tiny ballroom at the Sirata Beach Resort this week to hear representatives of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council discuss "Reef Fish Amendment 40," also known as sector separation.

"The way things are heading, I think my grandsons will have to pay for a fish before they are allowed to go out and catch it," said the 64-year-old Florida native. "This isn't right. And if it passes, it will be the first step towards shutting down recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico."

Most valuable commercial and recreational fish species, including red snapper, are managed under a quota system. Federal fishery managers decide how many pounds of fish can be taken every year without damaging the stocks, then divide that amount between the two user groups (or the commercial and recreational "sectors").

But under Amendment 40, the recreational anglers' 49 percent share of the snapper fishery will be split again between private recreational anglers and the charter-for-hire and party boat operators.

"This is a slippery slope," said Trip Aukeman, director of advocacy for the Coastal Conservation Association. "The next step will be having the guides getting IFQs (individual fishing quotas), which will further reduce recreational fishing opportunities. You won't be able to just go out and fish with your buddy anymore. If you want to catch red snapper, you will have to pay."

In recent years, recreational anglers have faced shorter and shorter red snapper seasons despite an obvious rebound in the stocks. This year, local fishermen had just nine days to catch red snapper in federal waters, which begin 9 miles offshore. Many, including some state officials, feel the federal fishery management system is not working.

As a result, the Gulf states have set their own red snapper seasons, disregarding the federal management plan. Florida anglers had a 52-day season, a boon to anglers living on the Panhandle where red snapper are a few miles off the beach.

Proponents of sector separation contend that it will allow officials to tailor management needs to each group within the recreational fishery. Opponents of the plan argue that it may further reduce the days recreational anglers can catch red snapper and quite possibly, privatize recreational fishing.

"They seem determined to shove this down the recreational sector's throats whether we want it or not," said Markett. "I think the federal government is determined to deny recreational fishermen access to any species that has commercial value."

Many recreational fishermen, including Markett, believe red snapper management would be better left to the individual Gulf states, which could then set bag and size limits, as well as seasons. State officials could also set closed areas so the recreational anglers could stay within their quota.

Under such a system, the red snapper fishery off Tampa Bay, which is usually 30 to 50 miles offshore, could be managed differently than that of the Panhandle, where red snapper can be found a few miles off the beach.

With that in mind, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold a workshop Monday from 6-8:30 p.m. in the third floor conference room of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (100 Eighth Ave. SE., St. Petersburg) to gather angler input on everything from red snapper sector separation to the IFQ program.

"We want to put all the cards on the table and hear what people have to say," said Martha Bademan with the FWC's Division of Marine Fisheries Management in Tallahassee. "We are hoping we come away with some really good ideas."

Meanwhile, the Gulf Council is scheduled to meet Aug. 25-29 in Biloxi, Miss. to consider its options. The council's red snapper advisory panel recently recommended taking no action on Amendment 40 at this time. But council members could still move ahead with the plan, which could then come up for a final vote at the council's October meeting in Mobile, Ala.

Comments
Captainís Corner: Warming weather brings permit to wrecks, ledges

Captainís Corner: Warming weather brings permit to wrecks, ledges

As water temperatures continue to climb, more and more permit are showing up on wrecks and ledges off the Suncoast area. These highly prized members of the jack family appear every spring and gather into large aggregations for spawning. Most of this ...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18

Captainís Corner: Time nears for snook, tarpon out at the beaches

With summerlike air temperatures coming in the next couple of weeks, snook will be moving out to the beaches and tarpon will start cruising there. Itís my favorite time of year to fish. With snook on the beaches and passes, you would think their biol...
Published: 04/21/18
Updated: 04/22/18

Captainís Corner: Variables are all that is constant when it comes to art of fishing

The unique variables and ever-changing conditions of fishing are what set it apart from most other sports. Basketball goals donít move, baseball diamonds are basically the same and tennis courts never change. Fishing, on the other hand, is constantly...
Published: 04/21/18

Captainís Corner: King mackerel the hot topic as gulf waters warm

King mackerel is always the hot topic this time of year, with tournaments every weekend for two months. Some believe that massive schools in the gulf migrate from their fall haunts in south Florida and the Keys to the north, with the larger females (...
Published: 04/18/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Captainís Corner: Trout moving toward the beaches

Captainís Corner: Trout moving toward the beaches

After significant winds from a front last week, things are calming down and fish are turning on again. Bait has gotten predictable and easier to chum on the flats after moving to deeper water during the front. Iíve been targeting trout at first light...
Published: 04/18/18
Updated: 04/19/18

Captainís Corner: Rush of warmer water in gulf heats up fishing on offshore reefs, wrecks

The rush of warmer water on our offshore reefs and wrecks in the Gulf of Mexico has brought with it a cadre of pelagic fish. Divers and anglers have enjoyed the influx of cobia, kingfish and more. The benthic (bottom) fish are splurging on the balls ...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Captainís Corner: Spring bite is solid despite wacky weather

Bipolar weather continues to confuse both fish and anglers. Fortunately the water temperature has gotten high enough that the effects donít last long and the spring bite continues to be solid. Snook are still the hot bite in many areas around the bay...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18

Captainís Corner: Kingfish, sharks provide aerial displays

Fishing was good this past Saturday, ahead of the cold front. We fished close to shore about 2 miles. Our approach was simple. We anchored the boat, fished with live baits and chummed heavily. Kingfish action was nonstop for the entire morning. We ca...
Published: 04/16/18

Captainís Corner: Trolling or anchoring up, kingfish bite is hot

Are you looking for line-screaming action? Head offshore. The kingfish bite has been good, though high winds may require a wait for the water to clear. The best numbers have been about 5 miles out on the hard bottom. Trolling for kingfish works well;...
Published: 04/13/18
Updated: 04/15/18

Captainís Corner: Spring run is the most wonderful time of the year

The full spring run of all species in our area is in full swing. Whatever species you would like to target, inshore or offshore, is as good as it gets this time of year. Redfish schools have shown up in the flats around Pinellas Point, but they are i...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18