| July 19
July 19 Weekend sportfisherman Charlie Caplinger
says he can hardly drop a line in the Gulf of Mexico without
reeling in a red snapper.
"It breaks my heart," Caplinger said.
That's because Caplinger, an investment bank salesman who
launches from his condo's boat dock in Slidell, Louisiana, is
required by U.S. law to toss the tasty, scarlet-colored snapper
back into the water.
There is a federal catch quota for red snapper, which was
designated as an over-fished species in 1988, back when some
Gulf fishermen say they rarely saw one.
Today, the stock is rebounding, according to scientists at
the National Marine Fisheries Service. But they say the fish
population remains disproportionately young and in need of
continued protection to achieve the proper age mix to sustain
Because recreational fishermen have overshot their
collective catch quota by millions of pounds since 2008, the
federal fishing season has been drastically shortened, down to
only nine days in June this year.
The resultant backlash has pit recreational anglers against
commercial fishermen, and U.S. states against the federal
Of the disputes that occasionally arise in fisheries around
the country, Matt Smelser of the Environmental Defense Fund
said, "this is the big one."
The resurgence of red snapper is credited in large part to
the compliance with the law by other groups that fish the Gulf.
Shrimpers have taken steps to reduce the number of young red
snappers that get caught in their nets.
And commercial red snapper fishermen, who supply restaurants
and retail seafood markets, created an effective monitoring
system that keeps them from exceeding their collective
commercial catch quota. Quotas change yearly, but in 2014
reached more than 5 million pounds each for the commercial and
recreational sectors, which split the total quota nearly in
"It has sparked a recovery in the snapper stock that I think
people, even those following it closely, didn't expect to happen
as fast," Smelser said.
Commercial fishermen, worried that overfishing by private
anglers threatens their livelihood, took the fight to the U.S.
District Court in Washington to force the government to clamp
down on recreational fishermen.
"It's like having a bank account and someone is taking a lot
of money out that's not theirs," said Keith Guindon of
Galveston, Texas, whose family has fished commercially for 50
The federal court ruled in favor of the commercial fishermen
in March, finding that the fisheries service violated the law by
not doing enough to stop the overfishing.
The window for recreational anglers could be even smaller
next year. "You're about to have a situation where private
anglers will not be allowed in federal waters in the next
years," predicted Ted Venker of the Coastal Conservation
Association (CCA), which looks after the interests of
Venker said the CCA opposes new controls, such as requiring
private fishermen to have a tag for each caught fish, as
In August, a fisheries service advisory council will hold
hearings to find a solution.
John Schmidt, a fisherman from Florida who has worked both
sides of the divide, said enforcement of quotas ensures
consumers have access to the popular fish, whether
sportfishermen or seafood lovers who don't own deep water boats.
"The public now gets to eat fresh fish," Schmidt said, "and
they get the confidence that they were caught in a sustainable
manner that doesn't overfish the resource."
(Reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando; Editing by David Adams
and Paul Simao)