Red snapper fishing in Texas and other states bordering the Gulf of Mexico has no business being governed by the federal government and it’s time to move ahead on their own.
That’s the sentiment from lawmakers and fisheries officials from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and now that they have a consensus on what they want to do with the tasty and sought-after fish valuable to recreational and commercial captains alike, it’s time to go it themselves on quotas and season dates. Fisheries leaders from those states announced their pact Friday amid discussion of setting the recreational sport fishing season in federal waters, which has been severely reduced in recent years.
Last year’s recreational Gulf snapper season was only nine days in federal waters. In Texas, federal waters begin nine nautical miles from the coast and extend 200 nautical miles.
Red snapper frameworks are managed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council under the National Marine Fisheries Service, but the pact between the states is based upon transferring management authority away from the council and into the touted Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority. States would have sole discretion in developing their own management plans but the others still must sign off.
Red snapper fishing long has been a contentious topic after the council previously announced and adjusted red snapper season for Gulf states. The move widely was viewed as retaliation for the plans of multiple states to go out of compliance with federal snapper regulations.
Texas, Louisiana and other Gulf states previously pushed back against proposed federal rules on red snapper, urging that snapper regulation be left up to the discretion of states, citing scientific research supporting the stance.
Gov. Rick Perry and other Gulf state governors previously sent a letter to Congressional leaders, stating that federal management of Gulf red snapper is evidence of a system that is “irretrievably broken,” and called for passage of legislation that would replace it with a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management.
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.
More than 95 percent of the red snapper landed in Texas come from federal waters, according to TPWD figures. Most of that catch – about 80 percent – comes from head boats, also known as “party boats,” which take out numerous paying clients offshore. These boats account for roughly 200,000 angler fishing trips annually, according to TPWD figures.
The recreational red snapper bag limit in federal waters is two fish at least 16 inches in length. The bag limit in Texas waters is four fish, at least 15 inches long, with a year-round season.