While most of the headlines label Louisiana “noncompliant,” Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ assistant secretary Randy Pausina said the state’s move to disregard federal fisheries plans is “flexibility in management.”

The issue is Saturday’s opener of the state’s recreational red snapper season, far in advance of the federally-controlled Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s June 1-27, two-red snapper-per-day season.

The state’s plan surface 10 months ago when the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission debated the possibility of setting a season that mimics Texas’ year-long, four-fish-per-day recreational red snapper fishery. The difference then was that Texas has a 9-mile state-water boundary into the Gulf of Mexico, while Louisiana has a 3-mile limit.

A month later, the commission voted to open the recreational red snapper season the Saturday before Palm Sunday weekend, to leave it open for two days, then open Friday-through-Sunday weekends through September with four-day (Friday-Monday) seasons for Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays.

The LWFC also approved a three-red snapper-per-day recreational catch.

During the same meeting, the LWFC followed LDWF secretary Robert Barham’s suggestion to approve a three marine leagues (10.357 miles) state fisheries-only waters boundary into the gulf.

Barham said the commission merely would be rubber stamping an act by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal that declared state waters out to that three marine leagues limit.

“Really we had to talk them (the commission) back to the weekends’ schedule,” Pausina said last week. “The commission wanted 365 days.

“I asked that they give me a chance to work with (the council) to get a (management) plan that worked, to have faith. We know we did not like the council system. We know the council process is slow, but we thought we could get an agreement for state management,” Pausina said.

Almost at every turn, Pausina said the plan was rejected: “For us, state management was just too much common sense, but when our plan did not happen the commission stayed with their stance.”

Pausina said the state’s plan gave each state, not just Louisiana, flexibility in managing species off their coasts, that each state had demonstrated an ability to well manage species in its waters and that state’s would be able to do the same with offshore species.

“It just happened that red snapper became the poster child in this dispute,” he said.

When the state’s reinforced its position in early February, Louisiana was branded by GMFMC executive director Roy Crabtree as “noncompliant.”

“For Roy Crabtree to say we’re noncompliant is nonsense,” Pausina continued. “We wanted the council to think outside the box, that 27 straight days was not the answer, and whatever seasonal days we came up with, we are determined not to harvest over our 15 percent.”

The 15 percent refers to Louisiana’s documented take from the annual recreational red snapper quota allowed by the council, which, this year, is a gulfwide total of slightly more than 4 million pounds.

“The first thing on the table was to let us do a pilot study for three years to play around with flexibility in management, to prove we can do it, but we just needed the authority to do it,” Pausina said. “It makes no sense that all five state have the same exact regulations.”

Louisiana fishermen will have to obtain a Louisiana Offshore Fishing Permit (see story) to participate in Saturday’s season.

The enforcers

The issue of Louisiana’s newly declared three marine leagues state-water boundary and the federally recognized three-mile limit for Louisiana will mean anglers could head into a jurisdictional cauldron for Saturday’s red snapper opener.

LDWF Enforcement Division’s Lt. Col Jeff Mayne said the state’s enforcement is beyond three marine leagues.

“That will put fishermen in federal waters, the season is for state waters,” Mayne said. “Our plan to focus enforcement effort beyond 10.357 miles to make sure we’re taking fish in state waters.”

Mayne was quick to note than neither National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (the federal agency charged with fisheries management) nor the U.S. Coast Guard recognize the state’s new boundary.

Otha Easley, NOAA’s Southeast Division interim Senior Agent for the Gulf, confirmed Mayne’s statement.

“It remains to be seen what our intentions are, but no details have squared away yet,” Easley said. “We plan to enforce the federal regulations at the federal line. For us, that’s three miles out.”

Easley said the recent federal budgetary battle could affect those plans.

“One of the details to figure out is this little bit of sequestration. We’re just tight-budgeted anyway,” Easley said. “From what I can understand the (Louisiana) Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will be assisting. We will partner with any enforcement help we can get.”