Now that some of the dust has settled over last week’s federal district court ruling in Washington, D.C., it’s time for recreational anglers to take a hard look at what a judge far away from the Gulf of Mexico believes has happened to red snapper management.
First, know the judge’s ruling came in a suit filed nine months ago by Texas commercial fishermen and pushed along by the Environmental Defense Fund.
Second, boiling down the 50-page ruling to a few words is easy: The judge believes the methods employed by our federal government managers to control the recreational take of red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico don’t work.
Third, notice that nowhere in the ruling did the judge indicate the Gulf’s red snapper is the main issue, or that the stock is in trouble, or that recovery of those stocks has been limited by the suit’s contention that recreational fishermen exceed the annual quota set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Fourth, note the judge’s ruling neither provided a remedy nor offered a mandate to further control the recreational red snapper take.
So while the commercial sector and the EDF believe there needs to be a more detailed accounting procedures for recreational catch – something more than increasingly shorter seasons and daily limits – the judge was wise enough to know that she didn’t have enough information to proffer any system the commercials and EDF insist need to be instituted to correct what they see as overharvest by the recreational side.
Fifth, nothing in the judge’s ruling demonized recreational fishermen the way some commercial interests and the EDF have attempted to during the last six years.
When the ruling came down in March’s last days, there was an audible groan from the recreational community.
Does the ruling mean there will be no 40-day Gulf recreational red snapper season announced by Regional Administrator Roy Crabtree earlier this year?
Does this mean recreational fishermen will have to go to court to correct some of the inequities in the federal management scheme?
How can recreational fishermen insist the Gulf Council and NMFS staffers use more timely and, in some cases, more accurate data in determining the recreational red snapper catch?
Though the commercials and the EDF are beating their chests over this “victory,” recreational fishermen can know that they’ve won, too, even amidst that ruling and while considering answers to those questions.
Years ago, when the federal managers decided to issue individual fishing quotas (IFQs) to the commercial side, the commercials didn’t complain the system was “broken.” The objections came from the recreational side. Back then and when recreational seasons started on a downhill spiral of decreased seasons, it was the recreational side saying the system was “broken.” Therein lies the win here – and it came with help from the commercial side.
This win came after a time when, despite the commercial/EDF cries of “foul,” dedicated and law-abiding recreational fishermen adhered to an ever-decreasing number of season days, stayed within the 16-inch minimum-size limit and lived with a two-red snapper-per-day creel limit. And this veiled recreational win comes with all sides fully knowing that red snapper stocks have rebounded much faster than anyone could have imagined.
That, mes amis, is a victory that stands apart from any suit or any court ruling.