Capt. Chuck Guilford has been searching the waters of the Gulf of Mexico for the bounty of the sea for 41 years.

Capt. Chuck Guilford has been searching the waters of the Gulf of Mexico for the bounty of the sea for 41 years.

With regulation upon regulation it is getting harder and harder for Guilford to turn a profit and he is unsure on what the future holds.

“The boys that are working for me depend on me for a living,” said Guilford.

The captain thought he was doing well last year, until at the end of season he had to put his boats up for maintenance.

This year he has had to cancel all but three charters. The weather hasn’t been cooperative, and the Mexico Beach Canal has been periodically closed due to a construction project there.

Added to those stresses is the fact that Guilford must tell customers they can’t keep some of the most popular fish such as red snapper and gag grouper.

“I will not take my customers for a boat ride,” said Guilford. “I’m going to take them on a safe trip. I’m going to take them on a fun trip, and I’m going to take them on a trip to catch fish.”

When Guilford started his career as charter boat captain and commercial fisherman there wasn’t a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and he said the fisherman handled the fishery themselves.

Now Guilford feels as if he has no control. He used to go to the meetings of the NMFS as far away as Washington D.C., but he’s missed the last two.

“I haven’t attended last two meetings because it was a waste of my dollars and my time,” Guilford said. “I have finally come to the conclusion after 10 years of attending meeting, that when the Marine Fisheries Council has a meeting they have already decided what they are going to do.”

Some of Guilford’s concerns may soon be answered.

There are currently two bills in the U.S. Congress that would greatly impact the fisheries laws of the United States.

The “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act” or H.R. 200 would amend the “Magnuson-Stevens Act” which is currently the law of the fisheries.

The amendment would have NMFS take in account the economic costs of regulation, allow for greater community involvement, greater transparency in procedure and collected data, a limitation on future catch-share programs, and independent privately funded fish stock assessment to be used when available.

Guilford believes the greatest problem with the NMFS today is they way it collects data for fish stock assessments, saying that the service likes to collect data after tropical storms have gone through an area.

“The fish can’t stand the barometric pressure, they move and they run,” said Guilford.

The captain said that fisherman knew this in the past, but they also knew that the fish would return eventually.

“We would tell our customers we don’t have any fish out there right now, let’s reschedule you for later on,” Guilford said.

Guilford believes that the restrictions placed on fisherman due to data from weather-caused depleted waters has thrown the natural state of the Gulf of Mexico out of synch.

“The normal red snapper 15 years ago was somewhere between five and nine pounds,” said Guilford. “Today it’s nothing to drop down there and catch a 25-pound or 30-pound snapper.”

Guilford added that a 25-pound snapper eats three times as much as an eight-pound fish. Stating that large snapper often eat their own, leaving a greater number of larger fish but a small amount of fish overall.

“My main objection to the National Marine Fisheries Service is they are really screwing up the natural order of fish,” Guilford said. “They are causing us to kill more fish then they can possibly be saving.”

While the National Marine Fisheries Service may have detractors in the fishing world, some in the commercial sector say that national standards are needed.

“Without have the Magnuson Act, it’s the opinion of most all of us in our industry, that we wouldn’t be here. We would not be here as a food producing sector of the economy,” said Robert Jones, the executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association.

“The federal law that was passed in 1976 was established to protect the ability of the United States fisherman to provide a sustainable flow of seafood to the consumers of the nation, and for recreational activities,” Jones said.

While Jones says the law hasn’t been the best for the South Atlantic and Gulf fisheries, overall it has been a success for the nation.

“The federal rules are okay, the interpretation of them may be questioned,” Jones said.

Jones is fearful that if deregulation goes too overboard, that the recreational sector will take precedent over the commercial sector.

He is particularly worried about another piece of legislation currently making its way through Congress.

The “Modern Fish Act” is being praised by a recreational sector that believes current laws put them on the back burner.

Jones is worried that due to the amount of recreational boaters and the political power they wield, the roles will be switched and the commercial fishing industry will become an afterthought.

“The recreational industry is bigger than the commercial industry when you count the number of vessels,” said Jones “The recreational fishery though is just a minor number when you count all of the people in the United States that like to eat seafood. “And the people that don’t have boats for access to the water, the only way they are going to eat our seafood is either have enough money to buy a boat that can take you 9 miles offshore, or they’re going to get their fish from a commercial fisherman.”

Jones believes that the government is the only way to protect the millions of people, who eat seafood but don’t have access to the water.

“There has to be somewhere in the law, protection for those people who are going to provide the non-boaters and the other citizens with seafood,” he said.

While Jones, who is an avid sport fisherman himself, doesn’t believe that the recreational side is seeking rule changes out of malice, he does believe that the core debate is simple.

“The recreational people have always wanted more fish, and I don’t blame them. This whole thing is four words; who gets the fish,” he said.

Guilford, who has the unique perspective of holding both a commercial license and a charter license, believes that the current balance between commercial and recreational is just about right.

He would just like to see more access to species that he believes are there.

“If you take your six- or seven-year-old son out here fishing and let him get hold of one big old Red Snapper or Grouper, he will never forget it,” said Guilford.

“This past year I had a man who brought his six-year-old son fishing on the Charisma. I took him fishing when he was seven years old when his father brought him. He never forgot.”