Snapper issue to top agenda

The cat’s still in the bag, but not for long on several issues that will be discussed at Thursday morning’s Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting.

The LWFC’s six members — reduced from seven by Saturday’s untimely death of commercial fishing representative Mike Voisin — will hear from state biologists about hot-button items covering Louisiana’s recreational red snapper seasons, removing restrictive 20-year regulations on taking black bass in the Atchafalaya Basin and maintaining or possibly further restricting deer hunting seasons in low-lying areas of the state’s southeastern parishes.

It’s the red snapper issue that could draw national attention.

The commission voted last year to establish three-day, Friday-Sunday recreational red snapper weekends beginning from the weekend before Easter and continuing through the Labor Day holiday, with the stipulation that Memorial Day and Labor Day would have four-day fishing windows.

The commission also approved pushing the state’s seaward fishing boundary from three miles to three marine leagues, or slightly more than 10 miles off the state’s coast.

Since then, the LWFC also approved a plan requiring offshore anglers taking reef fish (red snapper among them), billfish and yellowfin tuna to have a special fee-free Louisiana permit and to report catches of tuna to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries before offloading them from a boat at any public or private dock.

LDWF fisheries managers spearheaded a drive in January and early February to raise the issue of regional management of fish, especially red snapper, off the state’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, an issue that was enforced by the other four Gulf states.

LDWF assistant secretary Randy Pausina said regional management likely will not be implemented this year, if at all, after a series of public hearings in late January is taken to the Gulf Council for a vote sometime this spring.

The courses for the other two items, Atchafalaya bass and deer hunting, are more certain.

LDWF Inland Fisheries administrator Mike Wood opened public comment on Atchafalaya bass restrictions throughout the last half of 2012 after, he explained, another biological study showed the continued 14-inch limit had little effect on the overall number of bass in the vast basin. The restriction was imposed after Hurricane Andrew wiped out an estimated 175 million fish, including 5 million bass, in 1992. A 1989-91 the study that showed 14-inch bass spawned at least twice (and 12-inch bass might not have spawned.)

The deer-hunting changes come in the wake of continuing storms that have raked southeast Louisiana during the past seven summers. State biologists estimated that prolonged high water from 2012’s Hurricane Isaac caused 90 percent fawn mortality in as many as nine parishes.

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