PORT FOURCHON — Recreational fishermen who call the Gulf of Mexico home gained a vital foothold in their angling future when the U.S House passed HR 1335 last week.

This legislation reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the federal measure that governs the country’s commercial and recreation marine fisheries activities.

Mostly ignored in the existing and previous Magnuson-Stevens versions, recreational fishing interests staged an all-out effort to include more recreational friendly language in this reauthorization debate.

The most heavily scrutinized regulations and the moves for change came from proposals outlined nearly two years ago in the Morris-Deal Commission, a group headed by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and Scott Deal, the president of Mavericks Boats.

This group also had contributions from several recreationally based fishing groups.

HR 1335 reauthorization changes pushed by the M-D Commission included:

Promoting a more transparent and science-based review of fishery allocations between commercial and recreational sectors;

Helping ensure that important fisheries aren’t closed unnecessarily by providing limited exceptions for annual catch limits;

And improving the accuracy of fish-stocks information through greater involvement by the states, a plan that included data collected by individual anglers.

Added to HR 1335 was an amendment offered by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus co-chairman Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., demanded federal fisheries managers in the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration “to implement management practices better tailored to the nature of recreational fishing.”

“Rep. Wittman’s amendment addresses one of the key priorities of the Morris-Deal Commission: adopting a revised approach to saltwater recreational fisheries management,” American Sportfishing Association president Mike Nussman said. “This provision will promote the consideration of management approaches that fit the interests of recreational anglers, as opposed to the current approach of applying a commercial fisheries management model onto the nation’s 11 million (recreational) anglers.”

Commercial interests opposed several amendments.

The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate.

Louisiana’s presence

Newly elected Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., got his feet wet early in the process.

After his efforts to amend HR 1335 in committee, a move to transfer red snapper management to the five Gulf States was defeated, Graves teamed with Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., to amend HR 2578, a budgetary measure on the House floor.

Their amendment will deny funding to a federal agency or agencies that promulgate recreational fishing seasons that results in recreational anglers being able to fish less than 20 percent of commercial seasons for the same species.

Translated into terms for the current Gulf of Mexico’s recreational red snapper season, it means recreational fishermen would get at least 73 days to fish for red snapper, because commercial interests have the year-round, 365-day ability to catch red snapper. The current recreational season is 10 days long, from June 1-10.

The amendment also prohibits use of federal funds to implement newly enacted and federally approved Amendment 40, a Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council plan that divided the recreational red snapper fishery sector into private and for-hire groups. The private group received a 10-day season; the for-hire/charterboat group got 44 days. Graves also confirmed Friday that another bill is being prepared that will tackle the issue of state management for red snapper.

Graves, in Port Fourchon for the annual Catholic High (Baton Rouge) Alumni Fishing Rodeo, was on the water Friday and, with four other anglers, took a two-fish daily limit of red snapper. They also added a number of mangrove snapper. Graves is a CHS alum.

The first-year congressman said there are several ways to implement change, and when moves to transfer management from the federal control and notably the purview of the commercially fishing heavy Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Graves and others in the U.S. House took a different approach: funding.

“Earlier this week I was asked about these issues, and I said, ‘If you can’t beat them, wait for them to fall asleep.’ That’s what we did,” Graves said when he and fellow anglers were removing a limit of red snapper and a catch of hefty mangrove snapper after a trip to South Timbalier rigs off the state’s coast.