Red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico has long been a divisive issue pitting the commercial and recreational sectors against each other in terms of quota, and an amendment up for consideration would alter the annual catch limit in favor of sport anglers, something that certainly will add fuel to the fire.

NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment on Amendment 28 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf, a proposal that would reallocate the 2016 and 2017 snapper limits between the commercial and recreational sectors from 51:49 percent to 48.5:51.5 percent, respectively. The change was recommended by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

The overall recreational harvest is divided between private anglers and for-hire charters, with seasons for both opening June 1 and stretching until catch quotas are met. In recent years, that has meant federal seasons as short as 10 days.

Last year’s red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico was marked for the first time by “sector separation,” a regulation approved defining how long recreational sector anglers and federal charter vessel/headboat (for-hire) anglers can catch snapper. The 2014 federal red snapper framework was shortened to just nine days.

The length of the federal recreational season in the Gulf is determined by the amount of the quota, the average weight of fish landed and estimated catch rates over time. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for ensuring the entire recreational harvest –including harvest in state waters — does not exceed the recreational quota. Therefore, if states establish a longer season or a larger bag limit for state waters than the federal regulations allow in federal waters, the federal season must be adjusted to account for the additional harvest expected in state waters.

The public comment period ends March 10.


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