Red Snapper Wrist Slappers
On April 21st, the federal fishing season officially opened for one of the most highly sought after and arguably highly regulated game fish in the Gulf. Fun and oftentimes challenging to catch, more than delectable as table fare, I am of course referring to the illusive red snapper. The current federal red snapper regulations, for the recreational angler, permit fishermen to keep four fish, over sixteen inches in length, per day. A panel of 17 voting members, known as the Gulf Council, currently sets the federal fishing regulations for both recreational and commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. The council consists of the directors of the five Gulf state marine resource management agencies (or their designees), and 11 members nominated by state governors or appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. There are also four nonvoting members who represent the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of State, and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. The current document that is currently most pertinent to recreational anglers is the Red Snapper IFQ (individual fishing quota)/Reef Fish Amendment 26. This document denotes that according to government estimates, the red snapper stock in the Gulf of Mexico is dwindling. IFQ/Reef Fish Amendment 26 is titled as a scoping document which, after giving a summary of the stock assessments and computer model assessments, goes on to suggest an array of possibilities in which to regulate commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, and the shrimping sector, all in the hopes of increasing red snapper stock numbers. Currently the council has voted to forward IFQ/Reef Fish Amendment 26 to the Secretary of Commerce in the hopes of establishing an IFQ for commercial fishermen based on average individual boat catches from previous years. In other words, each commercial boat will be allowed to fish for snapper until they catch their calculated IFQ amount, at which point the season will be over for them. This differs from the current “derby” style commercial fishing allowed under current regulation, where the fishery is open until a TAC (total allowable catch for all the boats) is reached and then subsequently closed.
One of the first problems that I see with the IFQ system is the common problem of unreported or smuggled catches. Just last year a federal game agent for the Federal National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration boarded a commercial snapper boat in the Gulf and discovered, after searching hidden compartments, over 11,000 pounds of snapper. That is a staggering 9,000 pounds over the legal limit, two-thirds of which were reported to be undersized. It seems to me that an individual IFQ would only encourage more unreported catches, especially once a boat begins to approach its allocated amount for that year.
While the current legislation seems to be focused on regulating the commercial fishing sector, it is import to remember that they are not the only ones responsible for the dwindling snapper stock. The shrimping industry is purported to inadvertently catch and kill over 80 percent of every year class of Gulf red snapper. Additionally the most recent document adopted by the National Marine Fisheries service, Amendment 22 to the Reef Fishery Management Plan, offered no bycatch reduction regulations or standards for lowering the shrimping industry’s affect on snapper stock. The Gulf Council sent representatives to receive public comment on the Reef Fish Amendment 22 scoping document, at public hearings held all over the Gulf States. The meeting in Port Aransas was held on January 24. At that meeting, a representative for the council mentioned that the Gulf Council was hesitant to forward any legislation regulating the shrimping industry due to economic damage done by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, combined with soaring fuel prices, the number of working shrimp boats have already been whittled down to an unsubstantial amount.
When you’re out there snapper fishing, it is important to remember that there are many things that we, as recreational anglers, can do to help conserve snapper stock. First and foremost I feel it is important for anglers not to keep more than their legal limit. Another thing that comes to mind is I would urge anglers not to “cull” your fish. Once you catch your limit, don’t keep snapper fishing in the hopes of catching a bigger one, move on to something else. Another way recreational anglers can help is by learning proper venting techniques. More often than not, when deepwater fishing, an undersized snapper will have a distended swim bladder, by the time you get him to the boat. The proper technique is to insert the venting tool or rigging needle underneath the scales at a 45-degree angle, at the base of the pectoral fin. Insert the tool just far enough to hear the sound of escaping gas, and return the fish as quickly as possible to the water. If you don’t know where the pectoral fin is, it can be looked up in an encyclopedia or you can do a google search on proper venting technique. Every fish, even when properly vented, has a limited chance of survival. So if you are at your secret spot and you’re only catching little snapper, it is better to move on and fish it another day rather than wipe the spot out. Bear in mind that these fish have tails and are known to move around. Much like any other kind of fishing, it is simply a matter of finding them.
For more information on the Gulf Council, visit their website at www.gulfcouncil.org. On this site you will find a bulletin of the latest news about Reef Fish Amendment 26, the document itself, upcoming public hearings, as well as ways to contact members of the council in order to express your own opinions and concerns. The IFQ/Reef Fish Amendment 26 document is currently awaiting the approval of Secretary of Commerce, Carlos M. Gutierrez. His contact information can be found at www.commerce.gov. I feel that being aware of and protecting your rights, as a recreational angler, is an essential part of maintaining the future of sportfishing. For more information from the political front lines from the true advocates of angler’ rights, visit www.ccatexas.org.
The politics involved in regulating the species aren’t the only things heating up around here. As the offshore water temperature continues to warm up, more and more pelagic species will continue to move closer to shore, offering anglers the option to do some trolling for kingfish, dolphin, wahoo, tuna, and billfish, after they get their limit of snapper.
Your best chance at catching your snapper limit will usually be around the rigs, wrecks and so called “rocks” found offshore of Port Aransas. Red snapper will eat just about any live or cut bait that they can get their mouth around. When fishing for larger snapper it is important to remember that the larger fish will sometimes be suspended up off the bottom, and they will also tend to hang further from the wreck or rig, than the smaller snapper. It seems that the rule down there is that the bigger you get, the less dependant you are on structure for protection. Sow snapper will often eat large live perch or mullet, but they can also be caught on dead bait, diamond jigs, knife jigs, butterfly jigs and the popular snapper slapper jigs. Above all, remember to be safe out there, good luck, have fun, and don’t forget to take a kid fishing.
Capt. Peter Young