Representatives from the recreational fishing community recently met for their second in-person meeting to plan strategies for addressing current and future Gulf of Mexico red snapper management challenges. The two-day meeting, facilitated by Florida State University’s FCRC Consensus Center, produced constructive discussion on Gulf red snapper and reef fish management as a whole, as well as consensus positions on two timely issues facing federal fishery managers.
“The Gulf Angler Focus Group presents a more unified recreational fishing community that will result in clear management recommendations to ensure healthy red snapper and reef fish stocks while providing equitable and reasonable public access,” said Kellie Ralston, Florida Fishing Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “We are bringing together a broad representation of recreational fishing interests, through a professionally-led facilitation process, in a way that will be difficult for managers to ignore.”
In recent years, decreasing recreational fishing opportunities for Gulf red snapper have caused the recreational fishing community to become increasingly frustrated with federal management of the fishery. The Gulf Angler Focus Group consists of representatives of angler organizations, unaffiliated private anglers, for-hire operators and recreational fishing industry members. In consultation with all five state fisheries managers from the Gulf region, the Focus Group is developing a package of consensus management recommendations by the recreational sector for reasonable access and sustainable harvest of Gulf reef fish, with an emphasis on the red snapper fishery.
“The Gulf Angler Focus Group provides a real opportunity to build consensus among the various segments of the angling community on the future of recreational fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Chris Horton, Fisheries Program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “We continue to support legislative efforts to increase the states’ role in managing the fishery, and are organized at the regional level to counter increasing efforts to limit anglers’ opportunities on the water.”
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the body charged with developing fishery management plans for the region’s federal waters, meets January 25 – 28, in Orange Beach, Ala. At its meeting, the Council will consider the establishment of an ad hoc private recreational advisory panel. The Gulf Angler Focus Group recommends that the Gulf Council defer any action on the appointment of a recreational fishery advisory panel since the Focus Group is an already organized, neutrally facilitated and broad-based effort to develop recreational angler consensus recommendations over the course of 2016.
In addition, the Council plans to take final action on Reef Fish Amendment 39, also known as regional management of recreational red snapper fishing. The Gulf Angler Focus Group supports the regional management concept and the need for flexibility in state and regional management of the recreational component of the red snapper fishery. However, the Focus Group opposes Amendment 39 as currently amended because it does not accomplish the stated purpose and the intent for regional management. The Gulf Angler Focus Group recommends that the council re-evaluate the original vision of Amendment 39 and seek agreement on how to ensure the original purposes of the amendment are met.
“While it was valuable to get consensus on issues that will be discussed at the upcoming Gulf Council meeting, this was just the start,” said Ted Venker, Conservation director for the Coastal Conservation Association. “In 2016, the Gulf Angler Focus Group will evaluate the full range of management and policy issues affecting Gulf red snapper and reef fish management. We will work with the Gulf Council, NOAA Fisheries and Congress to implement our recommendations for the betterment of the fishery and the public’s ability to access and enjoy it.”