MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The charter fleet is struggling despite the short extension to red snapper season, now set for 34 days in Alabama. Chief Meteorologist Jason Smith takes a closer look at how these rules have a devastating impact on the people who make a living as fishermen.
It's a fact. Red snapper off the Alabama coast are plentiful. It's baffling that the seasons are getting shorter. These controversial national regulations have a huge impact on our local recreational and charter industry.
Dr. Bob Shipp is a scientist with the University of South Alabama Marine Sciences Division. He studies the fish in the waters off our coast.
"Professionally and personally, I believe we could have a much larger season. We have so many snapper off Alabama, if we could ever mange it ourselves, we could do a whole lot better," Dr. Shipp said.
The federal rules are designed to protect populations throughout the Gulf of Mexico and into the Atlantic, including areas where there are fewer fish. Dr. Shipp said many of the snapper that are tagged don't travel far before they are caught a second time. The snapper are not migratory. Alabama fish are not going help repopulate areas in the Carolinas.
"There are plenty of snapper, they are healthy, they are on every reef we have out here," he said.
With the downturn in the economy and the oil spill, there are some major challenges for local fisherman. In addition, diesel costs about $4.50 per gallon on average at the marina. It's a huge expense for boats that use several hundred gallons per day just run a trip.
"Snapper season for most of the boats around here is kind of like hitting your paydirt, that is what pays for the insurance, and the slip and the fuel for the whole year," Dr. Shipp said.
Many charter fisherman are quitting the business, with boats for sale for much less than their actual value.
Sonny Middleton, owner of Dog River Marina, said a short red snapper season affects the entire industry: bait shops, marinas, boat repair, everybody.
"These guys got big investments in their boats, we work on their boats, we need their business, they can't survive," Middleton said.
All of this has prompted U.S. Congressman Jo Bonner to indroduce a bill called the Gulf Fisheries Fairness Act. Essentially it would take control from federal agencies and give it to the state a little closer to the main snapper fishing grounds.
"Those management decisions would include everything from the number of days and length of season, to the number of fish, to the size of fish. It would address all of that," Rep. Bonner said.
Hopefully pressure from all levels well help create some change. It's very clear that jobs are a stake for residents of the Gulf Coast.
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