Sad spring for Louisiana anglers

The prospect of an 11 day red snapper season does little to uplift anglers

Courtesy of NOAA.gov

Courtesy of NOAA.gov

It’s been cold in Louisiana. A mid-April, 36-degree morning is more welcoming for a duck hunt than searching for that hot redfish spot or finding a bed of giant bluegill for one of the real springtime pleasures, a Saturday afternoon fish fry in the backyard.

With a couple of exceptions, mostly in the Delacroix and Lake DeCade areas, folks are having trouble getting on what should be more and more speckled trout moving to the coast. The cold winter is a possible explanation for the delay in the usual mid-April move trout make from Louisiana’s interior marshes to the coastal bays, lakes and barrier islands.

But it’s Easter, and, this year especially, it’s time for us who live along the Gulf Coast to celebrate breaking from what’s been a long, cold and sometimes miserable winter.

We know we’re going to have to live with 90-plus degree afternoons soon and sweat as if we were walking between two camels in the Sahara Desert. We’ll soon contend with humidity high enough to feel you like we’ve entered a sauna when we step outside – and we’ll swat swarms of mosquitoes in the cooler hours, too.

But there’s more reason than those to explain all the long faces we’re seeing at the tackle shops and the marinas.

The impending doom of an 11-day recreational red snapper season in federal waters (which may soon become even shorter) is another reason for the downtrodden looks.

There are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness among Louisiana’s saltwater anglers. Anger, too.

They know they’ve lived within the rules federal managers have laid out for them during the last 20 years, and they know they’re seeing more and more red snapper off Louisiana’s coast than even the old timers remember.

They’re frustrated about offshore trips when they stop at an oil platform or a reef and all they can find are red snapper, and they’re further frustrated at other stops when red snapper strip hooks before mangrove snapper, amberjack (but only after July 1 when the season reopens), cobia or grouper can sample what fishermen are offering.

Added to all that is the negative picture of recreational anglers that commercial fishermen, the commercial’s champion in the Environmental Defense Fund, and more and more charterboat and headboat operators are painting by their actions, testimony and comments in public venues.

In no small way, the commercial operations reap the most direct benefit from the resurgence of the red snapper population. Yet they continue to demonize the recreational fishing sector before any audience, anytime, anywhere.

After what’s happened during the last three weeks, recreational fishermen believe they have nowhere to turn for help.

After months of listening to commercial fishing claims that the commercial sector alone is responsible for the continued increases in red snapper numbers, recreational fishermen wonder how they lost a handle on this story – and how it was the commercial fishing industry that put red snapper in the shape it is, especially after the commercial sector went unregulated for nearly 100 years before somebody referenced the history of red snapper fishing in the Gulf.

Today, Louisiana anglers read numbers showing the red snapper stock in the western Gulf of Mexico is as healthy as it’s ever been. Even Gulf-wide, federal fisheries managers are talking about a stock that is fully recovered far in advance of the 2032 timeframe federal managers declared recovery should take many years ago.

Louisiana anglers can put little stock in its state wildlife and fisheries department declaration, effective Monday, April 20, that they will have a year-round red snapper season in state waters. Big deal. Three miles into the Gulf holds little promise of finding red snapper to catch. And the Coast Guard stands ready to run down and ticket any recreational anglers who try to push fishing for snapper into the disputed area (between three and nine miles), which Louisiana claims are its rightful waters.

Louisiana anglers know the days in November through March hold the best chance of taking red snapper inside their state’s three-mile limit, but state biologists held off opening those months last year to reduce the impact of the recreational take for other states.

Now, with a year-round opening, they’re looking at the chance of no recreational red snapper season after the National Marine Fisheries Service reviews the LDWF’s reaction to the 11-day season in federal waters.

In Louisiana, Easter’s promise, the hope that follows winter’s passage, is as dim as it’s ever been. The fishermen just don’t know why it happened or, even worse, how to correct it.

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Joe Macaluso has covered the outdoors in South Louisiana for more than 40 years and has served as the outdoors editor for The Advocate in Baton Rouge since the early 1990s. He is a long-time member of the Louisiana Outdoor Writer’s Association and is a past recipient of the association’s Arthur Van Pelt Award for lifetime achievement in conservation. He has also been honored for his coverage of college football and baseball before dedicating his career almost entirely to covering the outdoors.

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