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Local fishermen and feds butt heads over red snapper regulations

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 02:33 PM CDT
The Florida red snapper season is set and it's longer than last year.
Anglers can catch the popular fish for 44 days from June 1st to July 15th in state waters.
  
The season in federal waters is much shorter.
This fish is the source of so much controversy...
Saltwater fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry on the gulf coast supporting tens of thousands of jobs.
  
People come from all over the country to fish in our waters helping drive the local economy.
  
It's our most valuable fish.
Paul Redman/Charter Boat Captain: "That's what this area is known for. We started out with red snapper and pine trees."
  
Sport fishing reels in millions of tourist dollars.
Vacation anglers come to fish for red snapper a species heavily protected by the federal government.
  
The feds say they are protecting red snapper from overfishing with shorter seasons and strict catch limits.
  
Locals say the restrictions are killing recreational fishing.
Paul Redman/Charter Boat Captain: "The charter boats and the recreational fisherman are a huge part of this local economy. And when they can't use their ten thousand dollar boat, or their two million dollar boat, to go fishing because literally you can't catch anything...It's going to start having some serious effects."
  
There is a disconnect between the numbers the government uses when measuring the red snapper population. And the reality local fisherman see every day.
They say there are more snapper than ever.

Cameron Mulwee/Local Fisherman: "They're not on the water the see the snapper. They're everywhere."

Richard Bedics/Local Fisherman: "We must have caught 40-50 of them. We had to throw them back. In fact the fish were coming up and eating the red snapper as we were throwing them back in."

The local fishing industry calls the government data faulty and out of date.
We talked to doctor Roy Crabtree.  The Southeast Regional Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
  
His office says "more fish means more people are catching them faster.  They have raised the catch limit every year since 2010 but shortened the recreational season to stay within the increasing quotas."

The government last assessed the Gulf Snapper stock in 2009.
Dr. Crabtree says results from a new one will be in soon.  And even though the numbers should be up.  It may be too late to help this season.

Tommy Holmes/Outcast Bait and Tackle: "We need to get a new stock assessment before we start doing these regulations that we feel are unfair. There's plenty of red snapper out there. We all know it."

Your tax dollars are being spent on studying and managing the red snapper population.

A population that was once dangerously depleted from overfishing.
Ironically the government restrictions may be working too well.  There may be too many snapper.

Ray Boyer/Maria's Seafood: "It's recovered real good right now. A lot of anglers go out there and tell me they can't catch nothing else. They can't get to anything else because the snapper are in the way. So maybe they need to loosen it up, maybe just a little bit."
  
But would opening up snapper fishing or turning over control to the individual states and locals put the population at risk again?
  
Most locals think not.
Richard Bedics/Local Fisherman: "They're not going to fish it out. They're going to manage it correctly. Yeah, I think it would be worthwhile to allow them to manage it. Get them involved."
  
Charter boat captains and recreational fisherman have taken their concerns to the highest offices in Florida.   We asked Governor Rick Scott his stance on the issue.

Gov. Rick Scott/R-Florida: "The federal government is creating all these rules. They're making it very difficult for, especially for our commercial fishermen, even our recreational fishermen to go out there and catch the fish."
  
You have to ask the question is the government wasting its time.   And your tax dollars protecting a fish that doesn't need protection?

Paul Redman/Charter Boat Captain: "The government has really got it all wrong. It needs to be a congressional investigation of the National Marine Fishery Services is what needs to happen."

Tommy Holmes/Outcast Bait and Tackle: "Generally when the federal government gets involved in anything it's not too efficient... At best."
  
Something is fishy.
There is strong support for local anglers and the state taking over management of the fish populations in our waters.

That could lead to longer snapper seasons and increased catch limits.
If you would like to voice your opinion on this issue.   You can contact the Florida Wildlife Commission or your state representative.
  
We'd like to hear what you have to say about red snapper.
Please join the conversation on facebook.com/weartv
Local fishermen and feds butt heads over red snapper regulations


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