The Wild Side for August 5, 2012

The buzz across the five Gulf of Mexico states during the past three months is Louisiana’s move to extend its state fishery waters into the gulf and the push to take control of managing the fish in those waters and out into the federal Exclusive Economic Zone. The EEZ covers gulf waters out to 200 miles off the coast.

In June, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries secretary Robert Barham opened the discussion with a proposal that the state’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission extend state water from three miles to three marine leagues, a little more than 10 miles off the state’s coast.

That followed a commission vote earlier this year to change the recreational red snapper season in state waters: Instead of following the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s straight-through season this year it was 40 days from June 1 to July 10 with a limit of two red snapper per day.

The state’s change for 2012 is to a weekend-only red snapper take beginning the weekend before Easter Sunday and running into September.

This month’s latest chapter in this running battle with federal fisheries management came Thursday when state fisheries biologist Joey Shepard told the commission that the LDWF presented a regional red snapper management plan to the Gulf Council.

“It’s all about choice,” Shepard said. “If we want to manage fish by allowing our fishermen to take fish (red snapper) on weekends or every other Thursday, we should be able to do that and right now we don’t have that option.

“As long as we stick to a certain (catch) quota, we want the choice,” he continued. “We want to manage as landings in Louisiana and have control over limits and possession (of fish) and seasons and using harvest tags.”

For years, the LDWF has had enforcement jurisdiction in state and federal waters. Shepard said state Enforcement Division personnel made more than 20,000 checks and issued 628 fishery citations during 9,570 patrol hours between April 2011 and April 2012.

He further explained that the state will ask the Gulf Council for a three-year regional red snapper management plan at this month’s meeting. The plan will allow the state to establish recreational seasons, issue fee-free permits and require the state to track harvest rates and reporting mechanisms. He said the state will ask for 15 percent of the recreational red snapper quota, and added that percentage would serve as a basis for future allocation.

“We want to be able to use biology as a way to allocate the resource,” Shepard told the commission. “There needs to be some biological data, and to use it in a more effective way to control the recreational harvest.”

That last reference appeared to be a polite way to reflect the belief by the state’s offshore fishermen who have complained that red snapper seasons and daily limits don’t reflect the increasing numbers of red snapper they’re seeing off Louisiana’s coast.