According to federal regulations, Louisiana’s nine-day recreational red snapper fishing season legally starts next weekend. But some fishermen have been landing snapper since the state season started in March — at the risk of also landing a ticket from federal authorities.
The discrepancy between state and federal red snapper authorities is the subject of a bill sponsored by Sen. Bret Allain. Allain wants to put an all-out ban on red snapper, reasoning that if the fisheries are in such dire straits, maybe they shouldn’t be fished at all.
Allain has said he hopes his bill will spark a conversation with federal authorities.
Regional fisheries management organizations show the red snapper population has been in recovery since the late 1980s. But state officials are hearing from fishermen that say there are more red snapper than there have been in years. LSU oceanographer James Cowan says fisherman may be seeing more fish, but that doesn’t mean red snapper have recovered.
"Every single time we get to the point where we’re actually building biomass, they raise catches," Cowan said, "so we’ve never been able to make a lot of progress in rebuilding these fish."
Dr. Cowan has been studying red snapper for more than twenty years. He says it appears that there are more red snapper when the adolescent population spikes, which it does every so often, but those fish aren't making to an age at which they achieve full reproductive potential.
Cowan suggests that fisheries management boards take a more long term, thoughtful approach. In the mid-Atlantic, striped bass declined in the late 1970s.
"So what the states around the Chesapeake Bay did, is that they said 'we’re going to put a moratorium on fishing, we’re going to protect that 1980 year-class,'" Cowan said. "Striped bass reach full reproductive age when they are nine years old."
A decade down the line, the population was booming, and today there such an over-abundance of striped bass, there are debates about making their baitfish illegal to catch so that striped bass have enough to go around.