The Wild Side: Additional snapper days likely

Boiling down the more than 50 pages on red snapper handed out Wednesday at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting took a few minutes, and this is what it means for recreational fishermen.

There’s an increased quota of red snapper, from near 8.5 million pounds to 11 million pounds, and there’s the very real possibility that recreational fishermen will have a fall season across federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico to go along with the 28 days we had in June.

The additional fall days will begin Oct. 1 and run for however many consecutive days federal biologists figure it will take recreationals to fill out their quota.

The quota is 49 percent of 11 million pounds — 5.39 million pounds — not the 49 percent of the 8.46 million pounds of a quota the National Marine Fisheries Service set for recreational fishermen earlier this year.

The hitch to setting a firm length for a season is that the federal folks need to study the recreational catch from the 28-day June season to determine how many pounds remain up to that 5.39 million-pound limit.

It’s possible, considering the additional pounds, that recreationals could have as many as 21 days to take two red snapper a day.

Hand-in-hand with the possible extended recreational season is an increase in the commercial haul this year, too. The commercial fleet will get an additional 1.3 million pounds in the move up to the 11 million pounds total allowable catch.

There’s another possible bonus, too, after the Council approved the 11 million pounds limit.

That number falls short of the overharvesting numbers federal marine biologists set for Gulf red snapper this year and through 2015. Those numbers were 13.7 million pounds this year, 12 million pounds in 2014 and 10.7 million pounds in 2015.

The 11 million pounds should allow the Council to set recreational seasons far in advance of the dates they’ve finalized during the past six years.

Remember this year? We started the year with a 27-day season, then NMFS regional boss Roy Crabtree reduced Louisiana’s season to nine days after our Wildlife and Fisheries Commission was so bold to set a snapper season in state waters. Then the season was restored to a 28-day season the week before the recreational season was to open after Louisiana and Texas won a suit contesting Crabtree’s decision in federal court.

If all the numbers work, the Council could set the 2014 recreational season as early as January. This should help charterboat operators and marinas schedule trips and workloads far in advance of the federal season.

Shark closure

The NMFS closed commercial fishing for large coastal sharks effective 11:30 p.m. Friday in federal waters and Wildlife and Fisheries’ secretary Robert Barham closed state waters at the same time. There is no date set by federal managers for reopening this season.