Federal Judge: Fisheries Service has failed red snapper

Posted on March 13, 2007

HOUSTON, TX – In a stunning repudiation of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s rebuilding plan for red snapper, a federal judge ruled yesterday that NMFS violated the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act by its continuing failure to take timely and appropriate steps to rebuild red snapper stocks in the Gulf of Mexico or to regulate the harm to red snapper caused by shrimp fishing.

Coastal Conservation Association was the lead plaintiff in the suit.
“The judge’s ruling affirms CCA’s long-standing position: to manage red snapper stocks, NMFS must take into account the devastation caused by shrimp trawl by-catch,” said CCA Chairman Walter Fondren III.  “We are pleased with the decision of the federal court. This confirms that the support and dedication our members give to marine conservation really do make a difference.”
CCA challenged the legality of the 2005 NMFS rebuilding plan for red snapper because it failed to address and regulate the shrimp fishing industry, which accounts for the vast majority of red snapper mortality.
In her Opinion and Order, U. S. District Judge Melinda Harmon noted that the Department of Commerce (through NMFS) had repeatedly extended the time that it needed to rebuild red snapper stocks, but that NMFS’ efforts did not result in a plan that would have a greater than 50 percent chance of succeeding in rebuilding fish stocks.  Judge Harmon also found that the facts relied upon by NMFS to support its plan were unreasonable or unwarranted based on the information available to the government.
“We have fought the fisheries service over this point for two decades,” said CCA President David Cummins.  “If NMFS had been doing its job, we would have never reached this point. This situation was created entirely by NMFS and its incessant refusal to address shrimp trawl bycatch.”
The District Court ordered that NMFS issue a rule by December 12, 2007, that will provide for the rebuilding of red snapper stocks by 2032, at the latest.  The District Court further ordered that any plan approved by the U. S. Commerce Secretary must consider and adopt measures to minimize the number of juvenile red snapper killed by the shrimp fishing industry.
“We stand ready to work with the shrimp industry and all other stakeholders to make sure that the action to be taken by NMFS conforms with the judge’s target,” said CCA General Counsel Bob Hayes.
CCA is the largest marine resource conservation group of its kind in the nation. With more than 90,000 members, CCA has been active in state, national and international fisheries management issues since 1977. Visit www.JoinCCA.org for more information.
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH