The prognosis for the long-term recovery of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico brightened considerably last Thursday with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s passage of a measure known as “Amendment 40”—also known to fishermen as “Sector Separation.” Amendment 40 will allow separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper.
Although the red snapper fishery in the Gulf is managed as a single stock, the reality is that fishermen from the Florida Keys to South Texas face different situations and fish for different reasons. A for-hire captain who takes customers out of Southwest Florida and deep into federal waters may have a different set of concerns or needs than the weekend recreational angler who has a boat and likes to go red snapper fishing with friends and family but might not venture far from their home marina in the Florida Panhandle, Louisiana, or Texas. It is because of these vastly different situations among fishermen that a new management strategy was needed to address individual concerns, while also ensuring that conservation and rebuilding of the stock remains paramount.
The problem has been made worse by the fact that the science-based recreational quota for red snapper landings has been exceeded every year for twelve of the past fifteen seasons, often by hundreds of thousands of pounds. If this continues, we will jeopardize the efforts to rebuild this valuable fishery and conservation measures to end overfishing will be undermined.
Amendment 40 allows for management strategies that are better tailored to the individual needs of fishermen. Private recreational anglers will get the majority share, or 56 percent of the allocation, which will ultimately result in a season that is managed and designed with their unique needs and concerns in mind. The remaining 44 percent is reserved for members of the public who don’t own a boat and hire guides to take them out on the water. This will enable these charter captains to better schedule fishing days for their clients as their season becomes more predictable and stable.
This new approach to red snapper management is the result of nearly seven years of work. Numerous alternatives were developed and discussed at council meetings and public hearings around the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of written and spoken comments in favor of Amendment 40 were received by the council from fishermen, charter-for-hire captains, environmental groups, and concerned citizens from across the country.
Last week’s decision represents a practical and levelheaded solution that balances the needs of this ecologically and economically important reef fish and the sometimes competing demands and needs of an increasingly growing fishing public. Amendment 40’s passage shows how the process can work successfully on behalf of all stakeholders, from fishery managers to fish conservationists to on-the-water fishermen. And, of course, the fish.