Everyone talks about the negative impact of oil on our environment, but the reality is scores of fishing boats regularly tie off fully operating, pumping production platforms in the Gulf where it’s not uncommon to limit out on 50 fish in 15 minutes. You can see 50 feet straight down and the rig provides an artificial reef for bait fish that attract big game.
But getting offshore to those fish is pricey considering charter fishermen and their guests are only allowed two red snapper each, in spite of federal fishery councils determining that snapper stocks are doing rather well.
Besides restricting the catch limit, the season itself is very brief for popular Gulf fish like snapper and amberjack. More charter boat captains are moving away from deep, offshore operations toward near shore charters off Chandeleur and the other barrier islands of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
“Snapper was only open 45 or 50 days this year,” says Capt. Mike Adams of Fort Bayou Charters. “The regulations are very restrictive. It costs at least $300 to get out there.”
It doesn’t make financial sense to fill up the boat with up to 300 gallons of fuel at $3.50 per gallon, buy bait and ice all just to catch two fish. If there are three guys on the charter, then they can catch a whopping six snapper.
“It’s tough for those charter guys, especially snapper, with such a long run out,” says Bobby Carter, chairman of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic. “The snapper population has increased and there are a lot of snapper out there, so I don’t see the problem allowing four or five snapper each catch to help the local charter fishermen who are struggling.”
For snapper, the average size of the fish has actually increased recently, so fewer fish can be caught before the allowable poundage is harvested. Management goals are set in pounds, not in the number of fish caught.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has set harvest limits and open seasons for the entire Gulf of Mexico, regardless of fish populations that differ drastically between Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Under a rule published May 30, 2012 by the Gulf of Mexico Fish Management Council, the acceptable biological catch for red snapper was set at 8.080 million pounds for 2013, with 51 percent of the acceptable biological catch allocated to a commercial quota and 49 percent to recreational fishermen.
While anglers debate the government’s logic, scientists claim that bigger fish represent a more abundant commercial and recreational fishery for future generations, therefore the short season makes sense.
With many snapper trapped as bycatch in shrimp trawler nets, Adams and other fisherman feel the rules victimize recreational anglers. “I think some of the people making up the new laws aren’t looking at the environment,” says Adams.
With limits on tasty speckled trout being more generous, moving inshore to areas like Chandeleur Island, known for its clearer water and grassy beds, is a good bet for charters.
“More captains of smaller boats are moving inshore to save on fuel,” says Carter, who notes spectacular fishing off the Katrina Reef, just south of Deer Island. Previously part of the old Ocean Springs Bridge which was dismantled after Hurricane Katrina, the reef has great fishing with trout, sheepshead, flounder and redfish.
Off Venice and further out, tuna abound with wahoo prevalent at the mouth of the Mississippi River. South Louisiana’s labyrinth of waterways provides every kind of catch in its wealth of salt, fresh and brackish waters, all within minutes of each other. If restrictions on saltwater fishing continue in severity, there may be more charters based in the freshwater lakes of the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest U.S. swamp wilderness at 595,000 acres.
NOTE: You can reach Fort Bayou Charters at 228-697-4808