Court ruling clears way for charter/for-hire privatization scheme

Gulf of Mexico red snapper anglers out of options under federal management

Posted on January 05, 2016

NEW ORLEANS, LA (1-5-16) – A federal District Court judge has ruled that Amendment 40 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico will be allowed to stand, clearing the way for a new charter/for-hire sector in the red snapper fishery and reserving a significant percentage of the recreational quota exclusively for its use. Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) filed the lawsuit against Amendment 40, also known as sector separation, on behalf of anglers who have seen their access to the red snapper fishery steadily diminish under federal management while both the commercial and charter/for-hire sectors are positioned to reap windfalls.

“The great risk in these kinds of cases is that the court will simply defer to the federal agency charged with managing public resources and, unfortunately, that is what the court chose to do in this case.” said Bill Bird, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “NOAA Fisheries is committed to privatizing public marine resources for the benefit of private businesses at the expense of recreational anglers. We are deeply disappointed that the judge missed an opportunity to correct this misguided federal management philosophy, but it is certainly not the end of our efforts to get this fishery managed properly, for the greatest benefit to our nation.”

The ruling makes it unlikely that recreational anglers fishing from their own boats will see an improvement from the 2015 red snapper season in which they had nine days to fish, compared to 44 for charter/for-hire operators and year-round for commercial vessels. Separating sectors, awarding private property rights to public resources to some and denying access to other is a dysfunctional management philosophy that sets the stage for a never-ending series of user conflicts under federal management.

“This is another frustrating development in a fishery that has been defined by failure and misguided policies for decades, but it does prove that state management is now the only viable avenue out of this mess,” said Bird. “We are more committed than ever to working with Congress to transfer responsibility for the red snapper fishery away from the federal government and let the Gulf States manage it.”

Congress is aware there are significant problems in the Gulf red snapper fishery and is moving to address it. Last month, language was inserted into the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations bill by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) that extended all Gulf state waters to 9 miles and sought to improve red snapper allocation and stock assessments. A bill introduced by Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) H.R. 3094 - the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act – will grant legal recognition to a plan adopted by the Fish and Wildlife agencies of all five Gulf states to assume management of the Gulf red snapper in federal waters. The bill currently has 28 bi-partisan co-sponsors and has the support of a coalition of organizations representing the saltwater recreational fishing and boating community.