The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission received a briefing from staff on the state’s red snapper fishery as well as recent action by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council that is likely to shorten this year’s recreational fishing season in federal waters.
“We continue to be very concerned over the possibility of a greatly shortened red snapper season in federal waters off the Texas coast,” Commission chairman T. Dan Friedkin of Houston said. “The commission discussed the issue in executive session, and we want Texans interested in this issue to know that we are considering all options to try to address the council’s action. This issue is simply too important to our coastal anglers, communities and economy.”
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted on Feb. 8 to implement an emergency rule that could shorten the recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters off the Texas coast to as few as 11 days from the planned 27-day season. In contrast, the department allows snapper fishing in state waters 365 days a year.
The council recommendation earlier this month passed by a narrow majority, over strong opposition by representatives from Texas and Louisiana, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the council’s representative from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The emergency rule will only apply to states that are inconsistent with federal regulations, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
As recommended, the rule would authorize the National Marine Fisheries Service southeast regional administrator to shorten the red snapper season in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone waters off Texas. The EEZ begins nine nautical miles from the state’s coast and extends 200 nautical miles. State waters extend from the coast outward nine nautical miles.
“While the proposed shortened season would have no apparent conservation benefit, it would definitely have an economic impact,” said TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith. “We estimate that a 27-day season would generate at least $28 million from recreational fishermen, while an 11-day season would cut that figure by at least $17 million in lost retail sales.”
At the beginning of the meeting, commission members got a briefing from Robin Riechers, director of the department’s Coastal Fisheries Division.
“Our data show that while red snapper are still recovering from past over-fishing, their numbers are increasing in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly the western Gulf,” Riechers said after the meeting.”And the fishing is good. Fifty-three percent of fishermen get their limits in federal waters, with an average fish length of about 23 inches.”
But as red snapper numbers have increased, the council has decreased the duration of the federal recreational season. In 2008, it extended for 122 days but as of 2012, it had been lowered to only 46 days. During the same timeframe, the snapper harvest for the entire Gulf has increased from roughly 3.5 million pounds to nearly 6 million pounds.
The bag limit for red snapper in state waters is four fish longer than 15 inches with the season running year-round. In federal waters, the limit is two fish measuring more than 16 inches with season length varying.
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While no public comment was taken at the special meeting, TPWD has set up a web comment form to take comments online. As of Tuesday, the department had received 1,881 online comments, 97 percent of which disagree with the recommended rule. TPWD also has received 24 emails and letters on the issue, all in disagreement with the proposed federal red snapper season.