Ever since the Feds shortened the red snapper season to 11 days – the shortest in the history of mankind – I’ve been doing some research of my own. I’ve asked my fishing friends if they know why the season was cut to a tiny nub. In almost 100% of the cases, my angling buddies have no clue why we can only catch snapper legally for 11 days in 2014. And these are hard core fishing dudes. They all know how abundant snapper are so it’s a perplexing conundrum, which I have graciously tried to explain to them.
Since my peeps don’t know why, I’ll assume most of you reading this don’t either. So here’s the answer, which is actually quite simple, even though it’s not common knowledge. In addition to the bag limit of two fish, there’s another less known guideline. That rule sets an overall, annual poundage limit of snapper that sport fisherman can catch. In other words, the government regulates the total weight of all the snapper caught in one year in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2013, that limit was set at approximately five million pounds. So, as we anglers abide by the two fish law, we are also contributing to the five million pound limit. The conundrum is that we have no clue how many pounds are being caught by every fisherman in the gulf. And how could we?
As it turns out, recreational anglers exceeded this somewhat arbitrary five million pound limit in 2013 (according to the government’s estimates). And, therefore, the season needs to be shortened so we won’t exceed that limit this year. That’s the bizarre logic of fishing season regulations.
It’s bizarre because of several factors. One, red snapper are getting bigger. The average weight of a snapper has gone from four pounds in 2003 to almost eight pounds in 2013. So, naturally, we’re catching more pounds. Two, when a fishermen can only keep two fish, he keeps the big hoss daddies and tosses the small ones back, which quickly get gobbled up by dolphins (this is another discussion altogether). Three, the population of snapper is exploding. Gulf fishermen complain that they can’t catch anything else. Divers reports vast gangs of renegade snapper terrorizing local neighborhoods. It’s that bad.
If snapper were endangered, the short season would make sense. But the fact that they’re almost too many snapper makes an 11 days season very hard to swallow. This is why some states have gone rogue and bucked the system. Alabama and Mississippi are the only Gulf Coast states that have followed federal laws while Texas, Florida and Louisiana have created their own more lenient seasons.
The simple solution would be to raise the poundage limit to 10 million. But simplicity is not in our government’s vocabulary. And so just about everyone suffers. Sport fishermen, tackle shops, gas pumps, restaurants, hotels and the entire tourism industry that is supported by recreational fishing.