The Wild Side: Red snapper dilemma for council

If you’re a recreational offshore fisherman, word from the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting in San Antonio is not good.

For most of the past two months, the council and its overseer, National Marine Fisheries Service regional director Roy Crabtree, led recreational fishermen to believe there would be a fall recreational red snapper season.

Crabtree led everyone to believe, at least all who wanted to listen, that June’s recreational catch numbers and expanding annual red snapper quota by more than 2.5 million pounds could lead to as much as a 21-day rec season. Those were his numbers, the numbers his NMFS fish counters posted for all the world to see.

The only decisions the GMFMC reached was that the season should run consecutive days and that it should begin Oct. 1.

True, he said the council would have to wait for the fish counters’ final numbers to figure out how many pounds the recreational sector had left, a number that would determine the length of the fall season.

Those numbers were announced last week.

“It all boils down to the recreational sector took as much as 8 million pounds (in June) and were supposed to get 4 (million pounds),” Camp Matens said.

Matens, from Baton Rouge, is one off three Louisiana council representatives.

“It means there is no excess for any October season,” Matens said.

Those catch numbers came in a new NMFS data-collection scheme. It’s called a “protocol,” but it hardly seems any different from the last sampling system that showed much the same recreational overharvest, and that was a system that drew fire from wide range of nonfederal fisheries experts.

Even Crabtree admitted in an interview that statisticians need to get a handle on what the different numbers mean: He openly wondered if the previous “protocol” was used, would it produce the same numbers.

“It’s a big, fat mess,” Matens said. “After the numbers came out, I expected there would be some alternative offered for a recreational season before the meeting adjourned. There was none.

“Right now, there is no decision. The issue remains in limbo.”

And whose fault is that? Whose fault is it that the word gushed forth in early July that there was the possibility of a fall red snapper season?

It’s Crabtree’s, and this is another in a long line of problems coming from the NMFS regional administrator office recently.

“I’m not sure what he (Crabtree) can do within the legal constraints (of fisheries regulations),” Matens said. “If the resource (red snapper) was in trouble, it would be easy for him to say ‘no.’ But the resource is in fine shape.”

Yep, and that makes all this a much bigger problem.