/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
font-family:"Times New Roman";
So yesterday was the history lesson, today is the current state of affairs in the recreational fishery.
So currently, we have the various councils telling NOAA what was going on ‘scientifically’, so they could make rules to maintain fishery stocks that were set forth in the Magnusson Act. (The federal law stipulating how to regulate the federal waters fisheries) This federal law in the beginning was a good law, aimed at replenishing diminishing fish stocks. However, it has either digressed and/or modified into a political tool, or is so unwieldy as to be ineffective in come cases. For instance, NOAA admits that it takes an average of 2 years for a rule to be put into law after the information is gathered. In the meantime, the ecology of the fishery can change 180 degrees, making the rulings incorrect, especially when referring to shortages in a fishery. .
The salt water Gulf grouper fishery, once a resource of the people of the Gulf States is again under the heavy hand of the commercial fishery lobbyists. NOAA has placed unfair and draconian rules on recreational anglers to reduce the overall take of fish in the sea through minimal ‘seasons’ and restricted areas. On the surface this seems logical, but when you track through the changes in the Magnusson act coupled a completely different set of rules for the commercial industry which makes the whole effort on NOAA’s behalf appear illogical, with disputable facts and lots of lopsided rules. All this under the name of protecting the fish, while decreasing size limits of both gag and red grouper for commercial interests only, and shutting down recreational and charter anglers.
Once again, beginning in 2011, we are under the shadow of the commercial fisheries. The fisheries are no longer accessible freely with limits on take and size of the catch. Which numbers limits and size limits by the way, has normally worked well. Recreational anglers are forced once again stand in the corner, in time outs, while the commercials fish all year long. Where O where is the standard bearer of the state of Florida and the recreational anglers?
The state of Florida is loosing revenue, charter boats are going out of business, while tourist and recreational anglers no longer have the freedom of the seas, even with limits.
However, having said that, in all fairness, making rules for such a fluid entity such as the Fishery is not easy. But to take years to come up with a plan is unforgivable.
Here’s an interesting fact. Gag grouper are almost self regulating and of course cyclical as with all wild species. Some years there are more of these fish than in lesser years. The fact that these fish migrate from offshore in the summer to close inshore in the fall and back out again makes them often unavailable to recreational anglers most of the year.
When water temperatures drop, in Dec, or January and February, they go back to their offshore deep water haunts. Combine this fact with the winter weather and recreational anglers only have a short window anyway, without a false ‘season’ to contend with. Add to this the fact that often, information disseminated by the GCC can be 1 to 3 years behind the time the rules are put into place. Actually 3 to 4 years ago, gag grouper were much more difficult to catch than they are today. But was a rule implemented when we all knew gags were scarce? No, it took NOAA 3 years to act on that information. In the meantime gag grouper bounced back, without the aid of NOAA and the GCC. There is something wrong with this picture.
So let’s see, with the ‘season’ from June through September, is that a fair shake for recreational anglers (including charter boats). No, actually that is the worst time for recreational anglers to catch grouper as they are way offshore out of the majority of their reach. The timing of the ‘season’ was no accident, it was a management call. Gag grouper come closer inshore in October-November, and usually by December or January if we have any winter at all, move back offshore. This does vary, but normally this makes October through November the real accessible season to catch gag grouper. NOAA has purposefully made this time of year off limits to recreational anglers under the guise of lack of gag grouper. Yet commercials can fish all year long. And, there is currently no shortage of gag grouper.
According to a recent TV news article, commercial fishing boats are having a record year. However, one offshore recreational charter boat fishing in January this year, boated 63 gag grouper to 37 inches. Not one was kept due to the current law. Wouldn’t it be fair for each of the 4 anglers on board to keep at least one gag grouper? Oh, and 12 of those gags were of legal size. So to keep even 4 out of 12 keeper size fish would not be overfishing in my book.
To begin with, the information coming from the Gulf Coast Council has been proven to be inaccurate, untimely and generally off in many cases over the past few years. Example: In 2004 we had a terrible hurricane year. Many recreational boats (mine for one) did not even get out due to the poor weather all summer to the winter foul weather months. However, NOAA stated that the recreational anglers had exceeded their limit in numbers of pounds harvested that year. This was not only impossible, but speaks to the validity of information published by the Gulf Coast Council (GCC). In all fairness, they do get it correct some of the time. But not that time. It has been this kind of utterances from those in charge that are supposed to know what they are doing that has eroded the confidence we should have in NOAA’s rulings. In fact, the recreational and often times the commercial anglers have been or are at odds with rulings that have no basis in fact. So, Politics have continued to reign.
So, what do the recreational anglers think is fair? We want more accurate information from the Gulf Coast Council through NOAA. We want timely rulings to protect the fish, and not the politics of the fishery. We want equity with the commercial fishery re-established in a fair manor currently missing. We believe in the fishery above all else. Without a healthy fishery, nobody wins. There seems to be no willingness to sit down and discuss the matter fairly and logically with recreational anglers. If that were to happen, perhaps my articles would be a different shade of pale.
On the brighter side of things: Just yesterday I learned that there is a plan to open fishing to both recreational and commercial anglers the fishery out to 20 fathoms, to be implemented sometime in 2014. How this will be implemented is still not clear. If however we have open fishing out to 20 fathoms all year long with size and take limits, this will work out fine. Time will tell.
Parity with the commercial operators is the important item that needs to be addressed. That includes size limits, which currently is one of the major obstacles and fodder for an article of its own. Until recent years this was not a problem, but the current administration in NOAA has seen fit to revert back to a system that was rebuked in the 1980’s that has never worked anyway. It seems as if Americans rarely learn from history. Hopefully better things and a more fair approach is in the wind. After all, doesn’t the Gulf of Mexico resource belong to the American people?