The Wild Side. May 27, 2012

Friday is June 1, and Louisiana’s offshore fishermen have the first of an again-reduced recreational red snapper season in federal waters.

It’s a 40-day recreational season that, by federal mandate, ends July 10.

So while other deeper-water anglers in our four sister states along the Gulf of Mexico share in this time — except for Texas, which allows an almost open season in its nine-mile state waters boundary into the Gulf — it’s time to start thinking about us.

That mass of bureaucrats nestled in the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council is dead set to operate this fishery their way and to ignore everyone who tells them they’re working in a broken, antiquated system.

Earlier this month, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ secretary Robert Barham advanced an idea to extend state waters well beyond its current three-mile boundary.

During May’s Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting, Barham insisted the move was “for fisheries only,” and that he was following Act 336 of the 2011 Legislature that called, Barham said, “to move the historic gulfward boundaries of the state to a distance of three marine leagues, which is equal to 10.357 statute miles.”

The commission considered the proposal, but delayed a vote until the seven-member board that oversees the department could get a better grasp of Act 336’s scope and direction.

It was easy to understand that Barham was following the commission’s lead if not in total, then in part to back the first steps the commission took in April to refuse to accept the Gulf Council and NMFS’ continually shortened recreational red snapper seasons in Louisiana waters.

The issue of pushing state waters out more than seven additional miles into the Gulf of Mexico will resurface in the months ahead, especially now that the commission passed an expanded recreational red snapper season for state waters in 2013.

Some of this could have been prevented if the Gulf Council/NMFS scientists had bothered to take a longer look at the population explosion of red snapper off our state’s coast.

For three years, everyone who’s dropped a baited line around an oil/gas platform or over a reef have caught their two-red snapper daily limit in a matter of minutes.

While that’s something to celebrate, the downer is that red snapper so dominate these reefs that other fish, even other snapper species, have a problem coexisting with the red snapper.

If these two federal agencies had considered Friday-Sunday “open” periods within 2012’s 40-day season, it’s likely they would not have faced the increasing anger of Louisiana’s offshore anglers. But they haven’t, and for 40 days starting Friday we again are limited in taking a fish that’s become the dominant species off our coast.