The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on management of red snapper being a mess

April 12
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on management of red snapper being a mess:
Red snapper — according to a count by Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and reports from anglers — are plentiful in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, fishers say it’s difficult not to hook a snapper these days in the western Gulf.
Yet the federal Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council decided Thursday to limit the recreational season this year to 11 days, down from what was expected to be 40 days.
The council was reacting to a U.S. District Court ruling in a lawsuit filed by a group of commercial fishers. The judge found that federal fisheries managers repeatedly had allowed recreational anglers to haul in more than their allotted share of red snapper in recent years.
The new federal limits on this year’s season prompted Louisiana Secretary of Wildlife and Fisheries Robert Barham to give licensed fishers permission to catch red snapper anytime they want through the end of the year in state-controlled waters. In Congress, Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne introduced legislation Thursday to repeal “inflexible quotas” on commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf.
Barham and Rep. Byrne are understandably frustrated. And they are right: Federal management of red snapper is a mess. Dates and regulations are constantly changing, sometimes in mid-season. Thursday’s decision comes just two months before the 40-day recreational season was to begin, and many fishers had already booked their trips.
In addition, the data produced by federal agencies has significantly underestimated the snapper population.
It is not surprising then that Barham and Gov. Jindal are pushing for regional management by Gulf states of the fisheries.
In June 2012, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission voted to extend the state’s waters to roughly nine nautical miles to match the other states. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge introduced legislation in Congress in 2013 to change the boundary, but it hasn’t been adopted.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is policing those waters to make sure anglers looking for snapper off the Louisiana coast don’t fish there — and threatening to cite those who do. That isn’t fair.
Ironically, NOAA Fisheries — the federal agency that oversees the Gulf management council — pledged earlier this month to be a good partner to fishers.
“Resolving issues facing our fisheries today requires partnerships between managers, scientists and people who enjoy the resource,” Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said in an April 2 press release about the agency’s Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit. “I commit that NOAA Fisheries will actively engage the recreational fishing community, and we will do our part to find cooperative solutions.”
Let’s hope that is true, but fishers in Louisiana and elsewhere along the Gulf don’t have much reason to have faith in the promise.

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