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Getting Law on Their Side

Bipartisan members of Congress file solution to Gulf red snapper mess

Red snapper anglers had a chaotic season in 2013. (NOAA/Dave Hickson photo) Red snapper anglers had a chaotic season in 2013. (NOAA/Dave Hickson photo)

By: American Sportfishing Association

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A bipartisan coalition led by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) introduced legislation last week that charts a new course for management of Gulf red snapper, an important commercial and recreational fishery that has been plagued by controversy.

Joining Miller and Richmond as original co-sponsors of the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act were Reps. Charles Boustany (R-La.); Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.); Blake Farenthold (R-Texas); Bob Latta (R-Ohio); Pete Olson (R-Texas); Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.); Mike Rogers (R-Ala.); Steve Scalise (R-La.); Austin Scott (R-Ga.); Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.); Tim Walz (D-Minn.); Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), and Rob Wittman (R-Va.).

The legislation comes after the governors of four Gulf states released a joint letter to the U.S. House and Senate leadership stating that federal management of Gulf red snapper is “irretrievably broken,” and called for a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management.

In a sign of broad support for the concept of state-based management of fish and wildlife resources, the entire leadership of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus has signed on to the bill. Reps. Latta, Thompson, Walz and Wittman, all co-chairs of the CSC and most representing districts in states far from the Gulf Coast, have seen the need for a change in how federal fisheries are managed.

“Federal management of red snapper has painted itself into a corner. We have a robust red snapper population in the Gulf, but 2013 was as chaotic a season as anglers have ever seen,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “The season started as the shortest ever, saw a revolt by some states that resulted in even shorter seasons, endured a lawsuit, received a glowing stock assessment and the promise of a fall season, only to crash on wild estimates of overharvest that put the fall season in jeopardy.

“This is no way to manage a fishery, and this legislation presents a way out of this no-win situation. Congressman Miller is a true champion of American anglers for taking the lead on this legislation. His leadership brings a reliable, workable solution that allows the Gulf states to better manage red snapper conservation.”

Federal management of red snapper has been broken for years, and reached rock bottom in 2013 when frustration over status quo management compelled several Gulf states to seek greater control of the fishery in their own waters. In retaliation, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service used an emergency rule process to reduce the recreational season to nine days off Louisiana and 12 days off Texas. Both states sued and a federal court overturned the action.

“The reality is that federal management of the Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper fishery is fundamentally flawed, and it is negatively impacting anglers and the coastal economies that depend on access to that fishery,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “State-based fishery management has proven to be far more effective, and has engineered some of the greatest marine conservation victories in the country. We are grateful that the Gulf Governors, Reps. Miller, Richmond and the CSC co-chairs are working to give states back the authority to manage this situation.”

The Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act would establish a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management through which the states would fully comply with a management plan approved and adopted by the Gulf States Marines Fisheries Commission. The partnership would be similar to how the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission manages striped bass and how the Gulf states manage red drum.

“There are many examples where a shift to state-based management of a given fishery resource has been called for, producing better results,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “State fish and wildlife management professionals have a strong track record of managing their fishery resources in order to achieve the right balance between sustainability and quality fishing opportunities. The ongoing red snapper debacle in the Gulf is begging for the opportunity to put proven state-based management approaches to work.”

Comments offered today by other coalition leaders:

Coastal Conservation Association - Pat Murray, President
“This is a fishery that has been defined by crisis for decades, and there is nothing that leads one to believe it is likely to change given the current tools and philosophy of federal management,” said Patrick Murray, president of the Coastal Conservation Association. “This legislation provides an opportunity to break the cycle of crisis management with a viable alternative, and we applaud Rep. Jeff Miller and Rep. Cedric Richmond for their vision crafting a workable solution.”

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation - Steve Stock, President
“The current management regime for Gulf red snapper is unpredictable and ineffective,” said Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation President Steve Stock. “Rep. Miller’s legislation will allow the Gulf states to build fair, predictable red snapper management that will ensure Gulf anglers have reasonable access to this important resource.”

International Game Fish Association - Rob Kramer, President
“Anglers were the first conservationists,” said Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association. “State-based management – closest to the constituency managed – has a proven track record for conservation.”

National Marine Manufacturers Association - Thom Dammrich, President
“Uncertainty in fisheries management translates to uncertainty for fishing-dependent business,” said National Marine Manufacturers Association President Thom Dammrich. “Rep. Jeff Miller’s leadership in addressing the red snapper issue will mean that marine manufacturers, marine dealers, marina operators, and the many businesses that rely on stable saltwater fisheries will have greater opportunities for success.”

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