A New Era of Fisheries Management

Recreational anglers have great reason to rejoice. Finally, after many years of what was perceived as very one-sided and unfair fisheries management by federal regulators, we are entering a new era.

The Modern Fish Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Garret Graves (R-La.), enjoyed strong bipartisan support from a long list of cosponsors representing coastal and non-coastal states alike. On December 17, the Senate unanimously passed the Modern Fish Act (S. 1520) followed by overwhelming approval in the House (350-11) on December 19. President Trump signed it into law on December 31.

Texas red snapper anglers are especially joyful. The ridiculously short seasons of recent years, as short as three days in 2016, were a bitter pill for the angling community while commercial operators took advantage of generous allocations of the fishery and a protracted season during which to fish.

In 2018, under an experimental Exempted Fishing Permit, rec anglers were able to fish for red snapper during an 82 day season that ran continuously beginning June 1, in federally managed waters (outside 9 nautical miles). The season in Texas Territorial Waters (inside 9 nautical miles) remained unchanged, managed by TPWD as a year ‘round fishery, although only the southernmost portion of our coast has a viable year ‘round fishery.

Originally established as a two year management option, the Exempted Fishing Permit includes another 82 day season for 2019. It is hoped that under TPWD’s proposal, the 2019 season will allow fishing for the highly-sought red snapper for a longer period during the summer, most likely targeting weekends and holidays across the summer months, to include the Labor Day weekend, and possibly into early-fall when weather in the western Gulf of Mexico is more favorable to small-boat participants. Daily size and bag limit regulations are not expected to change in federally managed waters.

One of the primary sticking points in achieving longer seasons for recreational anglers has been the inability of federal managers to accurately gauge recreational harvest of red snapper, whereas the commercial side have been practicing dockside reporting under the catch shares system that directs fishing effort and harvest.

In short, the regulators made what our side called “wild guesses” to estimate the harvest. In the absence of reliable harvest data, we ended up in a situation that presumed the only way to avoid overfishing by the recreational sector was to reduce the number of days we could fish.  

Enter iSnapper and other trip reporting systems. Finally, though not a mandate, a more accurate reporting system is available and anglers have been participating voluntarily.

It is heartily encouraged that all recreational red snapper anglers continue to participate in these voluntary reporting systems during the 2019 season. We have been clamoring for years that management of reef fish and other species in the Gulf of Mexico should be entrusted to the individual state’s fisheries management agencies. Now it’s time to do our part and report our landings.