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Macaluso: Fight over red snapper has to stop

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By JOE MACALUSO | The Advocate

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — It's amazing to think anyone in Louisiana would try to derail recreational fishing efforts in our Sportsman's Paradise.

Yet, every time there's a chance to make public comment about the ongoing battle between recreational and commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, especially when it comes to red snapper, the Louisiana Restaurant Association lines up squarely against recreational fishermen.

Make no mistake, the LRA is a mighty organization in our state. Our restaurants are renowned around our world, and chefs working in our restaurants have produced culinary masterpieces in part because our waters yield so much of what others wish they had.

Somehow, in the decades leading to the near 20-year fight over red snapper, the recreational and commercial sides that draw on our bountiful waters have lived and worked in harmony.

Not now, not with the recent attacks on the allocation and the re-allocation of Gulf of Mexico red snapper.

With a couple of years of exceptions, the annual Gulf red snapper quota has been 9.12 million pounds, divided into 51 percent for commercials and 49 percent for the tens of thousands of recreational anglers venturing from the five Gulf states.

For years, and possibly with good reason, the commercials and the LRA decried the fact that the recreational take has exceeded its 49 percent. That's because, by its own admission, it's been such a chore for National Marine Fisheries Service staffers, and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, to accurately count the recreational take.

But here's where this situation gets thorny: Boiled down, the LRA's comments to the council is that the recreational take poses limitations on a fish restaurant owners say they need to provide their businesses.

It's then you also hear as much as 80 percent of the commercial red snapper harvest is shipped out of the country. That leaves the recreational side scratching heads over the LRA claim that more fish would help their bottom line and provide fish to Midwest markets.

If that's the case, then why complain about recreationals and insist more red snapper stay in our country?

What's more, even if the recreational take has exceeded its annual quota, how can fisheries biologists and the restaurateurs explain that red snapper populations have increased, and that the species doesn't appear to be overfished, especially in the western Gulf?

This battle will increase when the Gulf Council convenes a series of public hearings over red snapper reallocation, that recreationals could receive 75 percent (25 percent to commercials) of any newly established annual quota over 9.12 million pounds. Maybe what we need is a return to what we had years ago when the two user groups got along, and we should rejoice, not fight, over the rebounded abundance of red snapper.

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Information from: The Advocate, www.theadvocate.com

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