Shortened Red Snapper season creates havoc

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 8, 2016

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

Last week, fishermen all along the Gulf Coast were up early as the 2016 federal Red Snapper season kicked off. Preparations had been underway long before that with people busy buying gas, chartering boats, purchasing ice and booking hotels and condos.

Red Snapper season is a real boom for our coastal communities, but the impact is felt all throughout Southwest Alabama. Fishermen from Monroeville to Chatom flock down to the Gulf to catch Snapper, and communities like Atmore and Bay Minette benefit from an increased flow of visitors to our beaches.

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Unfortunately, this year’s Red Snapper season for recreational fishermen in federal waters will only last nine days. This is a disgrace for our fishermen, as well as our coastal communities. There are plenty of Red Snapper in the Gulf, but the federal government is relying on outdated research methods and flawed data in order to set the season length.

I know the short season is frustrating, but it is also dangerous. It creates a “derby-style” season, where fishermen go out to fish regardless of the conditions in order to get their fishing in before the season comes to a close. The large number of boats, coupled with unpredictable conditions, can create a truly dangerous situation.

It isn’t only fishermen who are worried about this issue though. A recent poll by local television station WKRG found that 52 percent of people in Southwest Alabama believe Red Snapper is a “critical” issue for our area. People realize that Red Snapper fishing is also about economic opportunities and personal freedom.

We need to get back to a real Red Snapper season again, and I have made this one of my top priorities in Congress. Last year, I was able to get a bill passed through the House that included three reforms that would get us a longer season.

The provisions would repeal the inflexible quotas for the Red Snapper fishery, permanently extend state water boundaries for each Gulf state to nine nautical miles, and remove data collection and stock assessments from federal control.

All told, these provisions will take power away from the federal government and instead, give more control to the Gulf states. With better data and more flexibility, we can get back to the real Red Snapper season that our coastal communities need and our fishermen deserve.

Sadly, our bill has stalled out in the Senate. I am continuing to work with Senators Shelby and Sessions, as well as the leadership in the Senate, to encourage them to act on this important legislation. I am not going to let up because this issue is so important to our area.

I am excited to report that there is a bit of good news. Thanks to a provision included in last year’s government funding bill, state waters this season are extended out to nine nautical miles in Alabama and throughout the Gulf. This is only a temporary fix though, and it will end after this year unless Congress acts again.

Another piece of good news is that the State of Alabama continues to do a better job of managing the fishery than the federal government. They have announced that the state season will run for 66 days, from May 27 through July 31.

While we are making some progress, more work remains. I am not going to give up the fight until we get back to a full Red Snapper season once again.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.