- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - As officials seek full recovery of the once disastrously depleted red snapper population in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf states are considering a proposed compromise on a contentious three-day federal red snapper season for recreational anglers.

The Commerce Department has said that if the Gulf states close waters to recreational redfish anglers on weekdays at least through Labor Day, a federal season will run the weekends of June 17 through Sept. 4.

If recreational anglers haven’t reached their 3 million-pound (nearly 1.4 million kilogram) quota by then, states could reopen their waters for a fall season.

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission voted 5-0 for the proposal Monday.

Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida also are being asked to approve it.

Patrick Banks, head of fisheries for Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told commissioners that an online survey of nearly 5,000 anglers found that they preferred an alternative that would have added Friday to the weekends.

However, that proposal also would have required states to give up the chance for a fall season in state waters. Texas - which has a year-round recreational red snapper season - balked at that, Banks said.

Texas is holding three public hearings Monday night along the coast and a webinar Tuesday. Alabama officials asked for public comment in a Facebook posting Friday, the same day that Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission held a conference call to gauge public comment.

Mississippi, like Louisiana, sent surveys to people who have participated in red snapper landing counts, said Paul Mickle, chief scientific officer at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. He said more than 500 people have responded so far.

The Commerce Department made the proposal after talks with state congressional delegations, said Jack Montoucet, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He said the proposal apparently came from outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which set the three-day season held earlier this month.

As red snapper numbers have rebounded over the last nine years, largely due to setting a hard quota for each commercial fishing boat each season, the total weight of red snapper that can be caught has more than doubled.

But recreational anglers have regularly exceeded their 49 percent share of the total - and each year’s excess gets subtracted from the next year’s recreational quota, cutting the season more and more.

As federal officials have cut the recreational season in federal waters, Gulf states have set much longer seasons within their offshore boundaries.

When NOAA Fisheries set the three-day season in May, regional administrator Roy Crabtree said the short time-frame was largely because private anglers were expected to take 81 percent of their quota out of state waters, where the shortest season is 66 days off Alabama.

That leaves little to be caught farther offshore in federal waters.

State officials and politicians say the truncated season proves that states should regulate the species.

The federal deal would also include fishing on July 3-4 and Labor Day, for a total of 27 days.

“Texas asked for a few extra days so they could get feelers out and get input from their fishermen. I think they’re the only ones out there with a little uncertainty,” Montoucet said.

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