Louisiana recreational fishermen will not have a more open season to take red snapper in state or federal waters this year, but that could change for 2013 after a decision Thursday during the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting.
North Louisiana commission member Ronny Graham offered a plan that would open the state’s red snapper season the Saturday before Palm Sunday in 2013. Palm Sunday occurs a week before Easter Sunday, which means that Saturday date is March 23, 2013.
Graham’s plan further outlined a three-red snapper-per day limit and a Friday-through-Sunday open season each week through the spring and summer weekends.
During the Notice of Intent’s discussion, Myron Fisher, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ representative to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, announced the GMFMC had established the recreational res snapper season to run June 1-July 10 this year, or 14 days less for this season and the 2011 season. Continued federal regulations mandate a 16-inch minimum size and two-per-angler-per-day recreational limits.
Fanning the fires under the red snapper debate was an early move by Department of Wildlife and Fisheries secretary Robert Barham to use language in Act 336 of the 2011 State Legislature that extends the “historic gulfward boundary of the state of Louisiana” to three marine leagues, or 10.357 statute miles, into the Gulf of Mexico.
Barham said the move was to comply with the wishes of the State Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature. Barham said the move was for fisheries only and pertained to no other state agency or territorial dispute.
Commission member Mike Voisin said while he backs the move, commercial and recreational fishermen could be caught between state and federal enforcement of fishery laws.
The LWFC tabled the move until its June 7 meeting.
Anger among several commission members over the red snapper issue surfaced during the LWFC’s April meeting, which led to a call from commission member Billy Broussard for the commission to reject federal red snapper seasons in state waters, a term called “noncompliance” of the federal regulations.
Graham insisted throughout Thursday’s discussion that his motion wasn’t for the state to stand noncompliant, but that the Friday-Sunday seasons was a better allocation of the red snapper fishery than the GMFMC and the National Marine Fisheries Service allow.
April’s discussion brought enough attention of the state’s potential noncompliance move Roy Crabtree, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service’s regional administrator to spend more than 30 minutes in front of the commission.
In part, Crabtree explained that a new stock assessment on Gulf red snapper is due next year and recreational season lengths and catch limits could change, but stopped short of saying seasons would be longer.
Broussard said most explanations of the decreased red snapper seasons come after three years of Louisiana fishermen observing an explosion of red snapper populations in federal waters off the state’s coast.
LSU professor James Cowan Jr. said the numbers of red snapper followed three highly successful spawning seasons between 2004 and 2006.
After outlining a life history of red snapper, and declaring that red snapper are not fully matured until age 15, Cowan warned that taking too many red snapper from what appears to be a burgeoning population could hinder the long-term sustainability of the species in the Gulf.
The seven-member commission adopted the notice 6-0: Commission member Stephen Oats was absent.
This notice will have the customary 120-day public comment period before the LWFC convenes for final ratification during its Sept. 6 meeting in Baton Rouge.