Congress considers state management of Gulf red snapper
Hearing on Rep. Jeff Miller’s bill explores options to flawed federal management system
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing today on legislation to transfer management of Gulf red snapper from the federal system and allow the states to take responsibility for the fishery. The legislation, H.R. 3099, proposes a new course for management of Gulf red snapper, an important fishery that has been plagued by short seasons and privatization schemes even as the stock has recovered beyond expectations.
“As a result of the current federal management of Gulf red snapper, we have witnessed lawsuit after lawsuit, and anglers continue to be hit with the shortest recreational seasons on record and are justifiably outraged,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who led a bipartisan coalition with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) to file H.R. 3099. “Furthermore, the failed management has done significant economic harm to communities along the Gulf Coast who rely on the billions of dollars anglers spend annually. This is clearly a cry for help.”
H.R. 3099, which currently has 20 bipartisan cosponsors, aligns with a call from four Gulf States governors for Congress to take action to reverse the damaging economic impacts currently resulting from an “irretrievably broken” system of federal management of Gulf red snapper.
“We have tried to work through the council process, but the council process is not working,” Robert Barham, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries testified at the hearing. “If it was, there would be no reason for this bill and I would not be standing before you today. NMFS itself even recognizes that new and innovative solutions are needed to manage the Gulf red snapper fishery. The Gulf states are that solution.”
In 2014, all five Gulf States were out of compliance with federal regulations stipulating ever-shrinking recreational seasons in spite of a booming population of red snapper. Each Gulf state also launched recreational data collection programs independent of federal efforts last year, spurred on by a lack of faith in federal efforts.
“As it stands today, federal management is a confusing spiral of uncertain regulations and greater mistrust in a management system that anglers increasingly see as punitive rather than constructive,” David Cresson, executive director of CCA Louisiana told the Committee. “Compounding the problem, NOAA Fisheries has embraced catch share programs to reward businesses that are able to count their catch to the pound. Up to 70 percent of this fishery will be privatized in the commercial and charter/for-hire sectors at a time when recreational anglers on their own boats face single-digit seasons on a booming stock of fish. It is no wonder that anglers believe they are unwelcome visitors in the federal fisheries management process.”
State-based fishery management has proven to be far more effective than the federal system and has engineered some of the greatest marine conservation victories in the country. Whereas federal management of red snapper has been marked by crisis after crisis, the states have proven far more capable of not only conserving and managing robust fisheries, but also providing greater access to those resources for their citizens.
“I feel that Alabama has more of an opportunity to manage this fishery in totality under the provisions of H.R.3099 than we currently have under NOAA Fisheries and current federal law,” Chris Blankenship, Director of Marine Resources for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told the Committee.