Red snapper fall season OK’d

Recreational fishermen could have as many as 21 days searching for and catching red snapper after the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved a fall supplemental season during its special meeting Wednesday at the New Orleans Hilton-Riverside.

The number of days for the fall season depends on the results of data from the recently concluded 28-day June season. Those details are expected to be known in mid-August after the National Marine Fisheries Service analyzes June’s Gulfwide catch data from its collection sources and from state reporting systems.

Camp Matens, one of three Louisiana representatives on the council, said the most likely scenario is a season less than the 21 days outlined in a chart provided by the council during the meeting.

Considering several options, including Sept. 1 or Oct. 1 opening days, and weekends-only or consecutive-day runs for the fall recreational season, the council voted for an Oct. 1 opener and the consecutive-days options.

While several charter-boat skippers — mostly from the Florida Panhandle and Orange Beach, Ala., areas — asked for the earliest season possible, the consensus was for an Oct. 1 opener after a mid-August assessment would give them more time to plan for and book charters.

Matens, from Baton Rouge, said the consecutive-days option gave recreational anglers more days on the water than the weekends-only alternative. Days for weekends-only by the NMFS staff, and under a new 11 million-pound Gulfwide red snapper quota was 16 days and, Matens said, would have meant more confusion over Friday-through-Sunday fishing days. It would have left one “weekend” with a Friday-only fishing day.

Matens said a Sept. 1 opening option would have left Louisiana outdoorsmen with choices between fishing for red snapper, opening of dove season and the 16-day special Sept. 14-29 teal season.

That fall-season vote settled only one of two actions the GMFMC considered.

The other was setting the final red snapper quota for 2013.

The Council settled on 11 million pounds, up from 8.46 million pounds established in a March decision.

Using the long-established ratio of 51 percent for the commercial fishing sector and 49 percent for recreational fishermen, it leaves the commercial side with a 2013 quota of 5.61 million pounds and recreationals with 5.29 million pounds.

Commercial fishermen will also be able to continue their catches this year beyond what was the 8.46 million pounds allowed.

Other annual quota considerations on the table Wednesday were continuing with the 8.46 million pounds or expanding it to 10 million, 11.5 million or 12.1 million pounds.

Data provided the council showed overfishing limits for 2013 at 13.7 million pounds, 12 million pounds for 2014 and 10.7 million pounds for 2015 with respective “allowable biological catch” rates at 13.5, 11.9 and 10.7 million pounds for those years.

Matens said the 11 million pound total allowable catch is in place for 2014 and 2015 but could be revised on a council vote pending new catch information and other data.

He said the 11 million pound quota was the best compromise on the table, because it was the highest catch level the council could set without having to consider quota decreases for the next two years.

These new numbers and seasons are subject to approval by the U.S. Commerce Department secretary Penny Sue Pritzker.

Matens said he offered the 11 million pounds alternative to help establish groundwork for setting recreational seasons earlier in the process than in past years.

Acting on NMFS approval, the usually late-April annual time frame for setting the recreational season has plagued marinas, charter-boat operators and recreational fishermen across the Gulf of Mexico for most of the past 10 years.

The move to establish an 11 million pound quota could open the door for setting future seasons earlier in the calendar year, but the council still has the option to alter that quota.

“I think it was a good day,” Matens said.