- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A federal fishing rule resulting in significantly longer recreational red snapper seasons for charter boat services than for private anglers in the Gulf of Mexico has been upheld by a federal appeals court.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision Tuesday that the rule was properly devised and implemented - a victory for licensed charter boat businesses that serve recreational anglers, and a defeat for a sport fishing organization that said it was unfair.

Red snapper is a highly prized gulf fish and its harvest is tightly managed, with catch limits and other rules for commercial and recreational fishermen. Annual quotas are set. Currently 51.5 percent of the catch is for recreational fishers and 48.5 percent for commercial fishing.

In a 2015 rule, Gulf Fisheries Management Council, which sets federal fishing limits in the Gulf, further divided the recreational quota, allocating 57.7 percent to private-boat anglers and 42.3 percent to federally licensed charter captains.

The length of their respective seasons is based on the time it’s expected to take them to reach their limit. While private anglers get a larger share of the quota, they’ve been granted only a nine-day season in federal waters for the past two years. Charter operators have had snapper seasons exceeding 40 days for the past two years.

The Coastal Conservation Association, representing private fishers, did not return a call for comment Wednesday morning but has said the rule gives an unfair advantage to private business.

“This decision is a major win for hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers who love to fish for red snapper but aren’t fortunate enough to own their own boat,” said Shane Cantrell, director of the Charter Fisherman’s Association, in an emailed comment.

Tuesday’s 5th Circuit ruling affirmed a January 2016 ruling by U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo in New Orleans, who had said that a shorter federal season for private anglers is offset by their ability to go after the fish in state waters, where charter captains cannot work.

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