SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Reef Fish Amendment 40 was the topic of choice for almost all of those who came out to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Council's town hall meeting Wednesday night.
"Amendment 40 is where the Gulf Council is looking at separating the recreational sector into two components. One component would be the private recreational, and the other component would be the federal for hire charter fishermen that have reef fish permits," said Dale Diaz, who is the DMR representative for the GOMFC.
Currently, federal law divides the red snapper stock between commercial and recreational fishermen, grouping charter fishermen with recreational. Amendment 40 would separate the two, something most charter fishermen seem to want.
"Amendment 40 helps both the charter and the private recreational angler, because that's who's taking the charters. That's who's staying in the hotels. That's who's going snapper fishing. The charter guys are just able to make a living doing it, and it's a tough living, but I am here to go to bat for them," said Sonny Schindler, who is the owner of Shore Thing Charters in Bay St. Louis.
Schindler feels that separating private recreational fishing from the charter boats will also help with accurate data counting of red snapper. Dale Diaz agrees. It could even help extend the red snapper season.
"It potentially could help. It depends on how the data comes out, so we'll just have to monitor it and see how it comes out," said Diaz.
Many fishermen say they don't trust the red snapper data. Johnny Marquez, who is the Executive Director of the Mississippi Coastal Conservation Association, doesn't understand how Amendment 40 could even be up for consideration right now.
"One of the things we're concerned about in Mississippi is that we have a far run for red snapper. They're not close by. One of the things that this proposal looks at is giving allocation to charter boats based on catch history," said Marquez.
Marquez fears that if that happens, then charter boats will be allotted a bigger share of the catch simply because they make more trips and historically catch more fish than the private recreational fishermen.
"This is a proposal that would divide the recreational anglers and essentially privatize part of our resources. We just don't think that privatizing, giving away our public resource is the best way to manage it," said Marquez.
Diaz says they will most likely take a vote in October during their session in Mobile, AL. By that time, each Gulf state will have held some kind of public hearing, and they will have had feedback from thousands of fishermen across the Coast.