The opposition was lined up from Aransas Pass in Texas to the Cortez Bridge and included U.S. senators and congressmen, fish and wildlife authorities from three states, and weekend anglers. But a bitter fight over a controversial federal proposal to overhaul recreational red snapper fishing appears over.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted 10-7 Thursday to approve Amendment 40, dividing the recreational fishing sector for red snapper into two formerly non-competing factions -- the charter boat captain and the fun-time fisherman.
Under "sector separation," recreational anglers, who previously were allowed 49 percent of the federal catch for red snapper, will be split into a charter/for-hire group and a group for private anglers. The commercial fishing sector receives 51 percent of the federal catch.
The Gulf Council roll-call vote, which was streamed live from Mobile, Ala., included three Floridians who voted in favor of Amendment 40: vice-chairman Roy Williams of Tallahassee, Pamela Dana of Destin and John Sanchez of Homestead. Martha Bademan of Tallahassee, representing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, was against it.
Red Snapper is considered overfished by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, although there is evidence of steadily increasing stocks. Since 1996, the recreational season for red snapper has shortened progressively.
A nine-day federal season in June was the shortest. The Gulf Council is responsible for enacting conservation measures.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission urged the Gulf Council to reconsider sector separation as a management tool in a letter dated Sept. 18. The letter highlighted improved red snapper stocks. Texas and Louisiana also opposed sector separation as a management solution for red snapper populations.
And on Oct. 20, the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, a bipartisan group of 60 senators and 227 representatives -- 12 from Florida -- objected to the "Gulf Council's fast-track of Amendment 40."
The Fishing Rights Alliance, an organization based in St. Petersburg, plans to take the Gulf Council's decision to court, according to its website.
The Coastal Conservation Association -- with a membership of roughly 100,000 -- lobbied hard against sector separation.
The Charter Fisherman’s Association said in a statement that the Gulf Council "took a critical first step toward ensuring that all Gulf anglers get the added flexibility in management they need and increased access they deserve.”