Public hearing on red snapper draws record crowd at the Hyatt Place

Going by the title "Sector Separation" given the plan by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Reef Fish Amendment 40 will divide recreational fishing for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico into "private" and "for-hire" sectors. The move would carve out a percentage of the annual allowed recreational take of red snapper between these two sectors.

The 171 who showed up for the three-hour public hearing was the most of any event of this kind for a federally conducted public comment session.

Of the 39 who commented on the move, 34 were against the action of dividing the recreational sector. Four of the the five who declared their intentions for the move were charterboat or headboat operators from Louisiana, Texas and Alabama.

One of the Gulf Council's three Louisiana members, Camp Matens from Baton Rouge, said Amendment 40 matters likely will not come up for a vote during next week's full council meeting in Biloxi, Miss. Matens said the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversees the council and provides fisheries data to the council, had not met specific deadlines for the background information needed to enact such a move.

"The council can still vote," Matens said, adding that without NMFS' information no specific final action could be taken on the amendment until October.

Amendment 40, Sector Separation, won fast-track approval for public hearings earlier this year. Parts of the amendment allow for several alternatives. The council voted for "preferred" alternatives that, first, would establish a "for-hire" component in gulfwide red snapper management, and another preferred alternative that would use 1996-2013 data that would divide the annual allowable recreational tke of red snapper into a 54.1-percent cut for private fishermen and 45.9 percent for the for-hire sector.

From the public comments, recreational fishermen said they fear a further cut in their allowable take would reduce their season from 2014's nine days to as few as 1-2 days in 2015, with the possibility of no season despite what most fishermen said was an exploding red snapper population off the Louisiana coast.

George Huye, Louisiana's representative on the council's Red Snapper Advisory Panal, said the panel voted against Amendment 40 two weeks ago at its meeting.

"This is nothing more than a subsidy for the charter, for-hire sector," Huye said Monday night. "It's designed to subsidize their industry with our fish."

Long-time Louisiana charter skipper Steve Tomeny testified that sector separation, "… is needed so we can make a living. It's the only way we can survive."