Weekend sportfisherman Charlie Caplinger says he can hardly drop a line in the Gulf of Mexico without reeling in a red snapper.
"It breaks my heart," Caplinger said.
That's because Caplinger, an investment bank salesman who launches from his condo's boat dock in Slidell, Louisiana, is required by U.S. law to toss the tasty, scarlet-colored snapper back into the water.
There is a federal catch quota for red snapper, which was designated as an over-fished species in 1988, back when some Gulf fishermen say they rarely saw one.
Today, the stock is rebounding, according to scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service. But they say the fish population remains disproportionately young and in need of continued protection to achieve the proper age mix to sustain itself.
Because recreational fishermen have overshot their collective catch quota by millions of pounds since 2008, the federal fishing season has been drastically shortened, down to only nine days in June this year.
The resultant backlash has pit recreational anglers against commercial fishermen, and U.S. states against the federal government.
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