Tides   

Three Who Voted on Red Snapper Rules Did Not Disclose Interests

That is really ragged to not disclose.

Clearwater, Florida -- Love to fish? Lots of Floridians like to spend their day on the water or hanging out on the pier hoping to catch the biggest and the best.

Well, some of that may soon be taken away from you.

Government regulators are trying to limit how long you can fish for red snapper, and giving more time to commercial businesses, leading some to fear this is just the beginning of regulations.

red snapper

It's one of the most popular fish in Florida, the fishing capital of the world, but there is a new catch from the federal government regarding recreational fisherman and red snapper.

Dennis O'Hern the executive director of the Fishing Rights Alliance says, "We're getting robbed, so where the hell is the sheriff?"

O'Hern is upset that a government agency, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, is allowing recreational fisherman to catch red snapper 10 days and commercial charter boats are allowed a month and a half -- 44 days.

A frustrated O'Hern says, "I fought this tooth and nail for almost 8 years now. For eight years I've been banging my head."

Charter boat Captain Chad Haggert admits, "There is not one set or rules that will be good for all fishermen."

Haggert, who charges $82 for a day trip on his Double Eagle Charters, says his business gives fishermen and particularly tourists who come here a chance to catch more red snapper. Haggert thinks the division between recreational anglers and Charter Boats is fair, but admits, "What might work good for my industry might not be what would work for the private fisherman."

Getting Smelly

But here's where this fish story starts to smell. Three members of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the group that voted to limit recreational fishermen, are on the board of directors of an organization that lobbies for charter boats. However, before the vote, the three didn't disclose the conflict of interest.

The regional administrator for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association, Roy Crabtree, admits, "They should have disclosed it." However, Crabtree says, "That situation has been rectified in their disclosure now."

However, the federal law governing this governmental agency says, "Those with a conflict must disclose that conflict and shall not vote on issues that would affect their organization."

Crabtree, who is also a voting member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, defends the three saying, "They have updated their disclosures now."

When 10 News pointed out the disclosure was after the vote and asked Crabtree who favors the restriction if that causes problem he said, "Not in my mind."

But recreational fishermen aren't buying that hook line and sinker, because the vote to favor the charter and party votes was 10 to 7 with the three members who didn't reveal their conflict being the deciding votes.

Attorney Craig Berman, an avid fisherman, says," You should be outraged as a taxpayer."

Berman is in the process of filing a lawsuit to have the vote overturned. The members of the five Gulf states -- Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Florida -- appointed to serve on the council are against the plan to favor charter boats. And Gulf Council members on the losing side of the vote say, in a report, it is poor policy and a bad law.

Berman contends, "They are doing it all to aid a very small sector of boats that hope to make huge profits off this."

And while charter boats are in line to make a big haul of fish and money, everyone else, either gets 10 days or has to pay a pretty penny.

O'Hern says "That ain't America, that ain't what I was born with and quite frankly I will fight that till my dying breath."

Recreational fisherman say their biggest fear about this snapper rule, is that it will soon move to other types of fish. Meantime, Rep. David Jolly is aware of the issue and says he's looking into it.

Story and Video by WTSP / 10 News



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