4/19/13 – Red Snapper Wars Heating Up

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GULF RED SNAPPER FIASCO PITS FED VS. STATES

The red snapper wars are heating up!   While the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) convened in Gulfport, Mississippi, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) met in Tallahassee in a vote to take red snapper matters into their own hands.

On Wednesday, April 18, FWC approved a 44-day recreational red snapper season for Gulf of Mexico state waters.  This season will start June 1 and end July 14 and is inconsistent with the current proposed federal season under review this week by the Gulf Council.  Federal fishery managers recently passed a rule that grants NOAA Fisheries authority to shorten the federal recreational red snapper season off states that adopt inconsistent red snapper regulations; the Gulf Council had originally proposed a 27-day season based on federal authority, but now NOAA Fisheries threatens to shorten the federal season out beyond state waters to just 17 days if states adopt inconsistent seasons as FWC has done.

There is also the matter of a federal Red Snapper Fishery Management Plan amendment (30B) prohibiting for-hire captains with federal permits from fishing for red snapper in state waters when federal seasons are closed, a major sticking point in the non-compliance argument in recent years.  However, on Thursday, April 18, that divisive subject was addressed when the Gulf Council voted to repeal Amendment 30B, thereby allowing federally permitted vessels to fish in state waters even when federal waters are closed.  Final approval of that decision now rests with the Commerce Department.

“We must pressure our states attorney generals and congressmen from all Gulf states to make sure the actions the Gulf Council has voted on and approved to be considered emergency measures and implemented before June 1,” said Capt. Tom Adams, chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance’s Forgotten Coast chapter (RFA-FC). “This is imperative for the charter for hire fleet which has pushed for and stood by the recreational fishermen.”

While a handful of ‘shareholders’ have pushed for inter-sector trading of catch shares, Capt. Adams said most charter and headboat captains in the Gulf have stood on behalf of open access for all anglers.  “If these recent actions voted for and passed by the Gulf Council are not implemented before June 1, it will almost assure most charter and for-hire folks in the Gulf will go out of business.”

“Finally after years of fighting, the voice of the Gulf fishermen is starting to be heard,” said Capt. Buddy Bradham of St. Petersburg, FL representing the RFA in Florida.  “The more people that will take time to write letters to the Gulf Council or our congressmen and attend workshops the more we will have a fair fishery given back to our fishermen.”

The Council also voted this week to rescind an emergency rule which allows the regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Southeast Region to close down state waters when states opt to go non-compliant, a significant vote considering the FWC decision earlier in the week.  These state and regional challenges to federal authority have been quickly gathering legislative support.

“As federal red snapper seasons have gotten progressively shorter, more and more fishermen are being forced off the water and out of business,” said U.S. Rep. Southerland (R-FL) on Wednesday, adding that the “FWC decision proves that our state leaders have a better understanding of our fisheries’ challenges and opportunities than Washington ever will.”

Rep. Southerland is also working on legislative relief in Congress which would provide more relief for all recreational anglers who target red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.

Four Gulf governors signed a group letter key members of Congress this week asking that red snapper be placed under the control of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. Signed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Florida Governor Rick Scott and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, the letter decried federal management of red snapper as “mired in confusion and turmoil,” and asked for “a constructive path to resolve this unsatisfactory situation, and seek your support of legislation to allow the states to take greater responsibilities in the management of fishery resources.”

Florida Governor Scott noted “The current unilateral, regulatory framework administered by the federal government for Red Snapper lacks flexibility and has undermined the expertise of our state fishery officials and local fishing communities,” while Texas Governor Perry said, “establishing state-based management provides a pragmatic approach to regional management of this important resource.”

In Louisiana, Governor Jindal said “We should not have to settle for over-arching, sub-par management of these resources by the federal government,” while state senator Bret Allain recently introduced a senate resolution seeking answers of the federal government as to why the state’s recreational red snapper season has shrunk to just nine days in recent years.

According to the RFA, the reason for the overall collapse in the recreational fishing industry is a federal fisheries law loaded with anti-fishing rhetoric.  “I wish we could’ve gotten more Gulf Coast legislators onboard with our recent federal rallies and national lobbying efforts since 2010 to help build support for amending our federal fisheries law, as we’ve tried all along to get the unified support of all fishermen before going over this fisheries cliff,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio.

When testifying before Congress in 2007, Donofrio noted that rebuilding provisions and rigid overfishing language hardcoded into the federal fishing law would have a significant impact on the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. “The most recent stock assessment establishes the spawning potential ratio at seven times larger than the last assessment in 2000,” Donofrio told the Committee on Natural Resources, adding “red snapper is at historically high levels of abundance.”

Because of the inflexible requirements set forth by the 2007 Magnuson Stevens Act reauthorization, red snapper seasons have gone from 194 days in federal waters to what now could amount to just over two weeks.  “This new regime is causing both unnecessary regulatory discards and severe negative social and economic impacts to local fishing communities throughout the Gulf,” Donofrio testified in 2007.

Appearing before the Gulf Council on Thursday afternoon, RFA managing director Jim Hutchinson, Jr. urged Gulf Council members to react to the federal fisheries service with defiance as state officials have.  “The Magnuson Stevens Act required very specific changes in the way recreational data collection was handled by NOAA Fisheries, including use of license and registry data as a universe of anglers, coupled with federal charter boat trip reports and even a weather corrective mechanism to factor bad weather days out of their datasets, but none of this has been accomplished.”

“If the federal government can’t meet their own required deadlines as per Magnuson Stevens in 2007, then the just and fair thing to do is to return to our 2007 Gulf of Mexico fisheries regulations with a 194-day season and two-fish Gulf-wide limit,” Hutchinson said.  “If NOAA Fisheries wants to challenge that argument, let that debate occur in Washington DC before members of Congress.”

“These are the type of brushfires that helped forge our nation, which are now helping send a defiant message to the federal government,” Donofrio said of the Gulf Council and FWC votes.  “I would hope to see more elected leaders, state agencies, and especially regional council members, stepping up in defense of our coastal fishermen and our coastal fishing industry.”

 

The Recreational Fishing Alliance is a national, grassroots political action organization representing recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues. RFA’s mission is to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation’s saltwater fisheries.  For more information, call 888-JOIN-RFA or visit www.rfa.tvsdev.com.