NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Temporary cuts in federal red snapper quotas will become permanent at the end of February, at least until the fish's numbers rebound.
Now the question is whether Florida and Alabama will pass matching rules for their state waters.
The first answer will come February 7th, when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets at Panama City Beach.
The rules given final federal approval this week are designed to cut the total red snapper take in the Gulf of Mexico to five million pounds a year -- 2.55 million of that for commercial fishermen, 2.45 million for recreational anglers.
That's 1.5 million pounds below the total allowed under temporary rules that took effect last spring, and 4.1 million pounds less than the 9.1 million pounds allowed during previous years.
Most of the permanent rules will take effect February 28th. But commercial boats and anglers have until June 1st to start using special hooks and other gear aimed at improving the survival of fish that are too small to keep -- 16 inches for anglers, 13 for commercial boats.
In addition, areas rich with snapper will be closed to shrimpers, who must reduce the amount of accidentally caught red snapper by nearly three-quarters.
Louisiana and Mississippi regulators decided last year to track the federal rules, and Texas has said no to a similar proposal.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)