By Jerry McBride
After reaching the red grouper recreational catch limit by early October last year, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fish managers sliced the 2015 harvest limit in half, to two fish per day. They rationalized that a lower daily bag limit would allow the harvest season to extend throughout the year.
Not a chance.
NOAA managers just announced the recreational Gulf of Mexico red grouper catch limit of 1,900,000 pounds will be reached by Oct. 7, which translates into another early closure starting at midnight, Oct. 8. That gives recreational anglers one more reason to stay home. Greater amberjack, red snapper and gray triggerfish are among the species already taken off the table in federal waters until 2016.
The reason the recreational limit was reached early, despite chopping the daily limit in half? According to NOAA data, red grouper were so abundant that anglers, including kayakers, found them nearer to shore and therefore more accessible than the previous year.
Federal fish managers have long allocated the lion's share—traditionally close to 80 percent–of Gulf red grouper to a handful of commercial fishermen, despite clear evidence the fish generate immensely more economic value when pursued by recreational anglers.
Let me propose a fish management plan that I promise would rebuild fish stocks while still encouraging people to get on the water year-round.
Everyone—commercial and recreational anglers alike–gets to keep the reef species they catch within the legal size and number restrictions.
They gotta use a kayak.