Measure to turn control of red snapper fishery to Gulf states clears first hurdle _lowres

Photo provided by SWOLLFEST RODEO Damon Wood posed with the Swollfest Rodeo's winning red snapper caught by his son George aboard the Reel Addication, captained by charter skipper Cory Talbot. The 25.8-pound red giant came during the two-day extension of the recreational red snapper season in federal waters of the Photo provided by Swollfest Rodeo Gulf of Mexico. Federal managers granted the extension after a tropical storm in the gulf wiped out as many as five days for recreational anglers to catch red snapepr during the original June 1-9 recreational season. Other offshore recreational anglers reported finding red snapper at oil and gas platorms, over wrecks and other reefs from off the mouth of the Mississippi River west into the Ship Shoal and Eugene Island blocks off the Louisiana coast.

A Congressional move to strip red snapper management from the federal government and transfer it to the five Gulf states cleared its first major hurdle Wednesday when the House Committee on Natural Resources passed, by a 24-14 vote, HR 3094 authored by Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves.

“It was good that we were able to get it through this committee,” Graves said. “It’s one of the steps we needed to clear, and now we search for opportunities to move it forward.”

The bill has the backing of the American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, the International Game Fish Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the Center for Coastal Conservation and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.

The vote met with opposition from Tom O’Connell, Ocean Conservancy’s Fish Conservation director.

“It has taken 10 years of careful, science-based management to breathe life back into the Gulf red snapper fishery, and fishermen are now enjoying a substantial increase in quota,” O’Connell said in a prepared release, adding that the overall annual red snapper quota for the Gulf of Mexico has increased from 5 million pounds in 2008 to 13.96 million pounds in 2016 with federal managers using regulations outlined in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

O’Connell’s release also stated, “A healthy red snapper fishery not only benefits the Gulf’s fishermen and coastal economies, but also restaurants, hotels and fish markets and American consumers nationwide. This is an important natural resource for many economic sectors.”

Graves told Advocate Outdoors that the move is not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent uproar over red snapper allocation between commercial and recreational user groups.

“The bottom line is this: The federal government is using flawed science and a self-preserving process to obstruct recreational and commercial access to Sportsman’s Paradise,” Graves said. “States can do it better, which is why I’ll continue working with my bipartisan colleagues until this bill is passed in full House of Representatives.

“Even federal officials have acknowledged there are fundamental flaws in the science guiding (red snapper) management,” Graves said. “They have admitted that in our hearings and are on the record stating that. The problem is they have had years to fix it and haven’t done it, and because they have not done it we’re moving forward with this bill.”

O’Connell raised another long-standing Ocean Conservancy objection when he said, “Red snapper belongs to the people of the United States. It’s vital that fair and equitable access to red snapper be continued.

“The American public would be better served if the states stopped their protest through liberal state seasons and put that energy into being good partners with the federal government.”

Graves said he disagrees with the notion that states cannot manage red snapper.

“When you look at the (Gulf) states’ management, they have not had rampant overfishing problems with the species they manage, and those at the federal level cannot make that same claim,” Graves said. “The states have a fantastic track record of managing fisheries.”

Graves found an ally in TRCP’s Steve Kline, whose group has been working with sportfishing groups for most of this decade to find alternative management approaches, including increased access, for several saltwater species including red snapper.

“We believe the Gulf States have demonstrated an ability to work with the recreational angling community to very successfully manage economically and culturally important species such as spotted sea trout, red drum, flounder, snook and many others,” Kline said.

“We believe HR3094 extends that success to red snapper in the Gulf and can help resolve many of the conflicts that currently exist in the federal management approach.”