An already long, hot summer got longer and hotter for Louisiana’s offshore recreational fishermen when the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ top management team officially announced opposition to a bill making its way through the U.S. House to create regional red snapper management.
That revelation, and subsequent explanations, dominated Thursday’s near-four-hour state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting.
LDWF secretary Charlie Melancon described an amendment to HR 3094, offered by Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, to deny the use of federal funds to implement a regional red snapper management plan a “killer” amendment.
Without federal funds, Melancon and LDWF fisheries assistant secretary Patrick Banks said the state’s implementation is, in Melancon’s words, “fiscally irresponsible.”
Banks told the commission state red snapper management would necessitate state data collection and monitoring, shrimp bycatch studies, and capital investments that would total, along with enforcement, $10 million in the first year of state control.
Banks said that number would be reduced by as much as $4 million in the second through the fifth years, and said there has been no indication federal biologists would share annual data they are mandated to collect that could lessen state costs.
Louisiana recreational anglers, who have been forced to endure reduced opportunity to catch a growing red snapper population in federal waters — 2016’s original recreational season was 10 days in early June. They have complained federal data is flawed and produced by an antiquated system, and have pushed for regional, state-by-state management for the past six years, but have been turned away in every move by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
Frustration turned to anger for private recreational fishermen in 2015 when the total recreational allowed red snapper catch was reduced when a for-hire/charterboat quota was hacked from the overall annual recreational quota.
Melancon’s reaction to those objections came in a prepared statement read to the commission: “HR 3094 would transfer to the Gulf states the management authority and responsibility for scientific data collection for the red snapper resource in state and federal waters off their respective coasts.
“However, HR3094 as recently amended … would not transfer any federal funding to the states to conduct necessary stock assessment, research data collection or enforcement. Without federal funding, Louisiana could particularly lack the resources to manage the red snapper fishery. HR 3094 would not be a viable option for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries,” Melancon said.
Banks said LA Creel, the groundbreaking plan to monitor Louisiana’s red snapper catch, will continue. LA Creel produces catch data more quickly than does the federal system, and has been accepted in several quarters as a more efficient and more workable tool in red snapper management.
Melancon said the department will continue to work with the GMFMC to develop a workable recreational plan.
Louisiana Coastal Conservation Association executive director David Cresson bristled when Melancon said the LDWF would turn to the GMFMC for direction in correcting the perceived imbalance for recreational anglers in the overall red snapper management scheme.
“The (LDWF) administrators have attended two Gulf Council meetings,” Cresson said, noting the current administration took over the LDWF in early January.
“These administrators haven’t been through the trials and tribulations of those who have been attending council meetings, doing this for 10 years or longer,” Cresson said. “To act like we can just go back to the Gulf Council and wave a magic wand and get results is hard to swallow. We’ve been down that road before, and it leads to nowhere.
“But what I’m most shocked about,” Cresson said, “is that with this administration we went from a department with a can-do attitude to a department with a we-can’t-do-that attitude.”