NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Federal regulators have set a 28-day recreational season for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, adding days in waters off Louisiana, Texas and Florida and reducing the number off of Mississippi and Alabama.
It means two more days for Florida anglers going after the popular game fish, four more off Louisiana, 11 more off Texas, and six fewer days for Mississippi and Alabama.
The uniform season set Wednesday was required under a ruling last week in a lawsuit brought by Louisiana and Texas. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division had illegally invoked an emergency rule to set one season for the popular game fish off Mississippi and Alabama and others off Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
"I think it's an important win for Louisiana and Texas, that's for sure," said Randy Pausina, Louisiana's fisheries official. "I feel very vindicated about this fight and this argument we've been making, that a federal judge pretty much point-for-point agreed with us."
The season opened June 1 with a catch limit of two a day and will close June 29.
Most red snapper in the Gulf are caught in federal waters, which, because of laws in effect when each became a state, are much closer to shores off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama than off Texas or Florida.
NOAA Fisheries had set different dates for different states to give anglers across the Gulf an equal chance, because seasons in state waters vary widely, regional administrator Roy E. Crabtree has said.
The seasons originally ranged from nine days in Louisiana to 28 days off of Mississippi and Alabama — both of which had set their state seasons to match the federal season — and later re-set them to a range of 17 days off Texas to 34 days off Mississippi and Alabama.
Texas waters are open year-round for the popular game fish, with a bag limit of four. Florida's waters are open 44 days. Louisiana set an 88-day weekends-only season with a limit of three; after NOAA Fisheries changed its season from nine days to 24, it added the weekdays between June 1-24.
Louisiana will add another four weekdays to the season in state waters, Pausina said.
"I think we've got a lot more work to do," he said.
He said one goal is regional management of red snapper, which the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council is working on.
"We're trying to have it completely in place in January so when we get to 2014 it's ready to go," Pausina said "Because a state like Texas wants to open its state waters in January. We'll probably wait until March."
He said another goal is getting better data about recreational catches. To that end, he said, Louisiana is continuing the intensive creel checks it began when state waters opened March 23.