Written by Jen Finn
PANAMA CITY BEACH — With red snapper season becoming shorter each year, many local charter boat captains say they are struggling to keep their heads above water.
However, new legislation that would shift control of a portion of federal waters back to the state is offering area anglers a glimmer of hope for reduced regulations on seasons and bag limits.
U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, introduced the Gulf Fisheries Fairness Act last week. The bill would extend the state water boundaries of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, allowing the states to manage reef fish species like snapper, grouper, amberjack and triggerfish.
With federal management agencies planning for the shortest red snapper season ever this year, Southerland said the legislation would "cast a life preserver to fishermen and coastal economies struggling to stay afloat amid crippling federal regulations."
In Florida, the legislation would reset state water boundaries for reef fish management from nine miles to a depth of 20 fathoms (120 feet), which could reach 60 miles offshore in some areas.
Chip Blackburn, who captains the charter boat "Miss Mary" in Mexico Beach, said if the act were to pass it probably would save his business and others in the area.
"What the legislation will do is give the states the authority to manage the reef fish complex out to 20 fathoms, which is a lot further than nine miles," Blackburn said. "The state would set the seasons, count the fish, basically do with (the reef fish) what they already do with the inshore species."
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