Negotiations between FWC, Gulf states and federal officials continue.

In a special meeting today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discussed efforts to add a substantial number of additional red snapper fishing days in Gulf federal waters this summer. The catch? Florida would have to give days to get days.

Discussions among federal and state agencies are focused on aligning a possible expanded federal season on weekends and holidays through the summer with existing seasons for state waters across all five Gulf states, including Florida. As it currently stands, the plan would require giving up some state waters fishing days (during the week) through the summer and possibly in the fall. These changes would apply only to private recreational anglers. No changes to the commercial or recreational for-hire seasons are being considered.

In a special meeting today held by teleconference, commissioners presented their positions on the red snapper seasons and requested input from other commissioners. Public discussion was held and comments were heard, and finally instructions were given to commission members to proceed.

“We’ve got an opportunity, beginning a week from this Saturday, to implement more federal days,” said Commissioner Wiley. “The options are about having weekends only, or for having Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The first is a 27-day option opening June 17, and the next is a 39-day option opening June 16. We’d have to give up days in both options. In the first option, to get 27 federal days, we would need to give up 13 state days during the week in June and July. In the second option, the three-day weekends, we’d probably have to give up our fall, state waters weekend season after Labor Day, which would be 34 days.”

Commissioners said these are the likely frameworks, but exact numbers of days may change during negotiations.

Jessica McCauley of the FWC said:

“After our input today, staff would work with DOC and other states to negotiate the best outcome providing as much sustainable fishing opportunities as possible. Director Nick Wylie would issue an executive order to make season changes.

“We have had more than 100 public comments on this issue this week, and almost all were positive about changes being made. There were a couple concerns about exceeding the federal quota, and we did hear some suspicions of working with federal managers.”

Most of the commissioners voiced support for the plan and said that many of the people they’ve heard from have also expressed anticipation for the additional federal season days. A general sentiment among the commissioners was that having open days in federal waters would be more valuable than open days in state waters during the fall. They were also pleased by the cooperation shown by the federal government to increase fishing opportunities for the general public.

In the public commentary phase of the conference, Gary Jennings of the American Sportfishing Association and Keep Florida Fishing said that while he is very appreciative of the possibility of additional days in federal waters, he is aware that this is an emergency response to the short season and an interim measure that does not offer a long-term solution to the problems of the management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tom Putnam of Half Hitch Tackle in Panama City thanked the commissioners for their work and expressed concerns that if the quota were overfished, lawsuits might ensue and days could be taken from the for-hire sector. He advised going conservative with the first measure and then see how the federal managers reacted after the season. He also said the state season in the fall is very valuable to the businesses along the coast.

Dennis O’Hern of the Fishing Rights Alliance (FRA), an organization that fights for recreational anglers’ opportunities, suggested that commissioners should adopt the 39-days added for the benefit of the most recreational anglers.

Greg Taylor of Charlotte County, like a number of other recreational anglers who commented, said additional federal days would be very valuable, especially since his red snapper fishing is at least 50 miles away from the coast. “I think it’s a great idea to split the season between state and federal waters with this new opportunity.”

Commissioners said that they expect to have a final decision on additional days by next Wednesday, June 14.

The 2017 red snapper season for private recreational anglers in Florida federal waters was June 1-3. In state waters, the 2017 season is currently 78-days total. The season opened for Saturdays and Sundays starting May 6, and has been open daily since May 27. The season is scheduled to continue being open each day through July 9, then reopen Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, including Labor Day.

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