Are the red snapper regulations in federal waters too restrictive?

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Regulations surrounding red snapper are the subject of a lot of chatter on fishing docks throughout the panhandle.

The three day red snapper season in federal waters was recently expanded to cover most of the summer, but there was a trade-off in a reduced number of red snapper days in state waters.

So, are the current fishing regulations helpful? Or harmful? It depends on who you ask.

Behind a local marina in Panama City sits a third generation charter captain who makes a living off of fishing.

"Our limits have gotten smaller, the amount of days that we get are definitely smaller. I make my full living charter fishing here in Panama City, been doing it my whole life, it supports me and my family, I've actually got twins on the way, they're going to be here later in the year," Hook 'em Charters Captain BJ Burkett said.

Captain BJ tell us the current red snapper fishing regulations in federal waters, which start nine nautical miles out, hinder his ability to profit as much as he used too.

"We started out, I'd say about 10 years ago we used to have 190 day red snapper season and we're down to a, this year we got 49 days for the federal charter for hire industry. We have had as few as 9 days in a year a couple years back, but the seasons have definitely changed. It's kinda sad in our eyes," Burkett said.

Representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tell us those regulations are enforced for a reason.

"Conservation laws are in place, you know, to ensure the natural resource is abundant and there for future generations to use," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission representative Rebekah Nelson.

We also reached out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, who responded with a statement saying in part, NOAA Fisheries regulate fishing to help foster healthy fish populations. It continues to say fish populations can be depleted if they're caught faster than they can reproduce.

Negotiations between federal regulators and Gulf states regarding extending the red snapper season began after many recreational fisherman rallied and criticized the season as too restrictive in 2017.

It was just three days long earlier this month, before gulf states met with federal regulators.

"The expanded federal days were decided upon between the U.S. Department of Commerce and fishery management leadership from five gulf states. The season is Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning June 16th and running through September 4th and in that, that's included a Monday and Tuesday, July 3rd and 4th and September 4th which is a Monday," Nelson said.

This is the longest federal red snapper season since 2013. However, the trade off for those extra days means having fewer days in state waters.

"In order to have that expanded federal season, all five Gulf states had to give back days. So they traded state days to get a longer federal season. So the total loss of days in state waters ended up being 13 days," Nelson said.

Many fishermen say they're also worried the extended time period will cause the quota, or the allowed total harvest, to be exceeded. Then the overage would be deducted from the quota for the following fishing season.

"If they catch over their quota this year, which in my personal opinion, I believe it's gonna dramatically be over the quota, then next year, they will not be allowed to catch near as many. It just makes us have to work a little harder during the summer," Burkett said.

The red snapper fishing season in federal waters for next year has yet to be released.