The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is meeting today at the Plantation Inn in Crystal River to discuss several fish-and-wildlife conservation issues, including red snapper and the adoption of new federal standards in the Gulf of Mexico.

Recent online debate between individual anglers and party and charter boat operators has created mass confusion within the recreational fishing community along the Gulf of Mexico with some anglers calling for non-compliance with federal regulations, while at the other extreme are a handful of federal permit owners hoping to see red snapper quota converted to catch shares.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) does not support either extreme.

“Let’s make this clear, RFA is a national organization which has been actively working to fix the federal fisheries law to improve access for all coastal anglers in the United States, both our for-hire fleet and our private anglers,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. “We do not support states going non-compliant on federal regulations since it would only lead to legally permitted charter captains being forced to stop fishing, which ultimately punishes the individual anglers.”

“By the same token, we do not support efforts to divide the recreational fishing sector into the haves and have-nots, which is essentially what the sector separation extreme is attempting through a series of vitriolic and abusive emails throughout the fishing community,” Donofrio said.

RFA said funding from radical groups like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) towards individual captains and captains associations in the Southeast in support of a sector separation scheme has been used to create massive division within the recreational sector. Since 2007, RFA has been actively pressing Congress to fix a broken federal fisheries law which has helped push this separation plan and a catch shares scheme as the answer to constantly changing fisheries limits across the country. In the case of red snapper, RFA is hoping to see language from the Flexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2011 (HR3061) incorporated into a federal fisheries reform package on Capitol Hill to help stop the divisiveness within the recreational sector.

“Despite the rumor mill generated by Capt. Gary Jarvis and his EDF buddies, RFA does not support non-compliance in the red snapper fishery nor do we support EDF’s efforts to tear the recreational fishing community into separate pieces,” said Donofrio, adding “now you’ve heard it directly from the horse’s mouth, as opposed to the other side which is best represented by Capt. Jarvis.”

Donofrio said many anglers are also confused by the views presented by a Florida-based group called the Fishing Rights Alliance (FRA) which is not affiliated in any way with RFA. “I have no impact on what the Fishing Rights Alliance wants, all I can say is that the RFA does not support non-compliance, and we do not support sector separation or catch shares. What we want is to fix a federal law that is destroying our coastal fishing communities,” Donofrio said.

Capt. Bob Zales, II, a member of the RFA board of directors and president of the National Association of Charterboat Operators (NACO) said there’s no way that he could support non-compliance given the federal ramifications for just such action. “As long as they have a federal noose around my neck, I have to comply, I have no choice,” said Zales.

The dates for the federal season on red snapper are expected to be discussed at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting on April 16-20, 2012.

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