Last year members of the recreational fishing community organized a Gulf Angler Focus Group Initiative to explore improved management options for the conservation and public enjoyment of Gulf of Mexico red snapper.

The Gulf Angler Focus Group Initiative gathered together representatives of angler organizations, unaffiliated private anglers, for-hire operators, and recreational fishing industry members, in consultation with all five state fisheries managers from the Gulf region.

Next week in New Orleans during the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting they will share their package of possible management options with the commissioners and members from NOAA Fisheries, including Dr. Roy Crabtree.

The meeting will be held January 30 – February 2 at the Astor Crowne Plaza on 739 Canal Street in New Orleans. There’s a long list of items on the agenda, but if you’re a recreational angler looking to attend you’ll want to go Wednesday February 1 and Thursday February 2.

The purpose of the Gulf Angler Focus Group Initiative was to develop a package of possible management options for further investigation to ensure a healthy red snapper stock while providing equitable and reasonable public access.

Some options that the group came up with include status quo, maximizing fishing days within current framework, harvest tags, depth/distance-based management, reef fish season, harvest rate/recruitment-based management, or a hybrid of various options.

Status quo would mean that private recreational red snapper fishing effort would continue to be managed by the current two fish bag limit in federal waters, minimum size restrictions and inconsistent state and federal seasons.

Maximizing fishing days within current framework entails the private recreational effort still being managed through seasons, size limits and bag limits. To provide more days in federal waters, possible management changes include reducing the bag limit, implementing size/slot limits, barotrauma reduction and/or congruent state and federal seasons and regulations.

With harvest tags the private recreational fishing harvest would be constrained in part or in whole based on a finite number of tags that would be distributed among anglers.

Depth/distance-based management would Implement open/closed areas to private recreational fishing harvest of red snapper to protect a portion of the stock from fishing mortality and potentially allow for an increase in the number of fishing days in the open area.

A reef fish season means that the reef fish regulations would be established as a unit as opposed to regulations for individual species.

Harvest rate/recruitment-based management would be based on the rate of removals caused by fishing, not a poundage-based annual catch limit rooted in past harvest.

The full document from the Gulf Angler Focus Group Initiative can be found online at gulfcouncil.org by looking at the upcoming meetings agenda.