Jeremy Alford

Charter captains face new reporting requirements

by Jeremy Alford

If you ask the old-timers down the bayou, they’ll tell you that some of the best coastal fishing happens in the wake of a disparaging storm. Stu Scheer, the longtime captain of Cocodrie Inside Charters, says there’s never been a better litmus test for the maxim than now, especially since hurricanes Gustav and Ike were churning in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters roughly a month ago. “I haven’t seen it like this in better than 40 years,” says Scheer. “We’ve really been catching some fish."

But just because Scheer is seeing a resources rebound doesn’t mean that biologists with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are aware of the bountiful harvests. For such reports, they might have to meet up with Scheer for a biscuit at Sportsman's Paradise Marina in lower Terrebonne Parish. Or the department could ask Scheer and Louisiana’s other captains – from Acadiana to north Louisiana – to begin reporting detailed information about their trips. Actually, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission agreed last week to do just that, setting in motion a voluntary reporting program for charter boat license holders.

The additional information is needed because the department only collects trip data from roughly 10 percent of the state’s charter captains. A trip ticket or landings report essentially details how many fish were caught during an outing. Presently, biologists and other fisheries experts must use that limited information to manage the sector and respond to its needs during natural disasters, like hurricanes. More information will help in this task, supporters say, and the proposed change could also aid the department in tracking species that may be in decline.

While there won’t be any additional costs to charter captains, officials say there will be more paperwork - or more administrative work for a job that’s better suited to the outdoors than a desk. Still, many captains are encouraged by the voluntary program. “If it’s beneficial to the fisheries, I don’t care what they ask me to do,” Scheer says. “I’ll live with it.”

Gary Harp, who operates Lewis and Harp Coastal Fishing Guide Service in Fourchon-Grand Isle area, says he has been participating in a voluntary offshore reporting program with the department for several years and doesn’t have a problem with more paperwork if necessary - especially if it means the state would have better information. He also says the new reporting rules could help curb abuses in delicate fisheries like red snapper, where recent arrest have unearthed gross violations of limits. “The data we’re working with now isn’t accurate by any means because everyone isn’t reporting,” Harp says. “I would love to know what’s going on. I know from our experience it takes less than 20 minutes to catch a limit of red snapper, but what everyone else is doing, I can’t say.”

The Legislature approved the enacting legislation earlier this year, but the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission was charged with developing and implementing the new voluntary program. The program could go online as soon as next year and interested parties can provide feedback to the commission until Dec. 4.