Public hearing on red snapper amendment draws debate

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's public hearing in Gulfport drew contentious debate over what could determine the fate of red snapper fishing in the Gulf.

The battle lines are between out-of-state charter boat operators and in-state private anglers.

Most everyone at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council public meeting Tuesday agreed that the red snapper population needs to be protected. The federal season this year lasted only nine days. But ideas on how to protect that stock were as different as choices in fishing lures.

Current federal law divides the red snapper stock between commercial (at 51 percent) and recreational (at 49 percent).

The proposed Reef Fish Amendment 40 suggests a separation of the recreational sector between private angling and federal for-hire charters.

Officials say it would provide a basis for flexible management tailored to distinctive needs. They also say it would reduce the likelihood for recreational quota overruns.

Federal for-hire charter operators have fallen since stricter regulations were put in place in 2014 while recreational fishing has increased. Charter operators see the proposal as a fair way to operate both interests.

"In order to fix this broken management for red snapper, the council's got to pass Amendment 40," said Gary Jarvis, a charter boat captain from Destin, FL. "Why? A nine day federal season, with a 5.1 million pound allocation, the largest allocation for recreational anglers in 33 years."

Recreational fishing arguments included rejection of federal management and general distrust of the data.

"This sector separation crap. I mean, this is just crap, guys," said Jerry Munro, recreational fisherman. "They're pitting us against each other, you understand. In the whole scheme of things, 50 percent of these fish are going to commercial people. We're left to scrap over 50 percent, excuse me, 49 percent."

And Munro, a former commissioner for the Mississippi wildlife fish and parks, has a fundamental distrust in the data presented that represented the number of red snapper in the Gulf.

"It's a SWAG guys," he said. "You know what a SWAG is? It's a Scientific Wild Ass Guess. You don't know how many snapper are out there."

Those who want to register their opinion on Amendment 40 can go to Next week, the council will meet in Biloxi and the next public comment is Aug. 27 at Beau Rivage.

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