NOAA Contemplates Changes for Gulf of Mexico Fishermen

Federal regulators are advocating radical changes to reduce the number of fishing vessels in the Gulf of Mexico.

The proposed changes target two of the Gulf's primary catches, shrimp and red snapper. While shrimp stocks remain healthy, the red snapper population has been dwindling and that's causing alarm among marine biologists and recreational fishermen.

Regulators want to cut the number of shrimp vessels in part because they're blamed for killing many juvenile red snapper in their nets.

In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, regulators think the timing is right for a cut in the number of shrimp, red snapper and recreational boats in the Gulf.

Katrina and Rita sank or damaged as many as 5,000 commercial fishing boats across the Gulf Coast. With so many boats out of commission, Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., the man who oversees the nation's fisheries, contends the storm's aftermath should be used to “rationalize'' the fleet.

Among the proposals under consideration is a voluntary buyout, in which the federal government would spend about $240 million to buy out shrimp and red snapper fishermen as well as charter boat operators.

Many fishermen, though, are vowing to fight the changes.