Guest blog by Rep. Garret Graves, Louisiana’s 6th District.
Hunting and fishing is part of life in Louisiana—it’s woven into the fabric of who we are. “Sportsman’s Paradise” is home to the most productive ecosystem in North America. In fact, the entire Gulf of Mexico region is blessed with a rich heritage and an enduring economy built on the bounty of the great outdoors. This area produces up to one-third of the wild seafood harvest in the continental United States and is the top source of shrimp, blue crabs, crawfish, and oysters in the nation. And even in the wake of devastating hurricanes and man-made catastrophes, like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Gulf coastal communities continue to survive and succeed, thanks in large part to recreational and commercial fishing activity and the resiliency of our residents.
Natural nor manmade disaster could not cripple the fishing heritage of the Gulf South, but poor federal management of red snapper is taking its toll on this aspect of our fishing culture. Recreational red snapper seasons in federal waters have never been shorter, and management disputes between stakeholder groups at the federally-guided Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council have never been so contentious. At the heart of the problem lies a management regime that is a complete failure and federal government science that fails to paint an accurate picture of the fishery.
Federal fisheries management has been very successful at limiting foreign commercial fishing pressure and curtailing overharvest by America’s commercial fisheries, but it has largely failed to recognize the cultural and economic importance of recreational fishing. That failure has led to the current red snapper quandary in the Gulf, through which recreational seasons are being shortened, because according to NOAA, there are abundant snapper that are too easy to catch.
That’s right. The federal seasons are shorter now than ever before, not because there are so few fish but because there are so many. It makes no sense. It also makes very little sense for NOAA and the Gulf Council to continue to band-aid a fundamentally flawed management approach by pushing efforts to restrict recreational access to public fisheries resources and enact management schemes that a majority of residents across the Gulf have very clearly said they don’t want.
I had the opportunity to fish for red snapper this summer in federal waters less than 12 miles off Louisiana’s coast. At every reef and oil rig we fished we easily caught snapper after snapper. I was lucky to have been in Louisiana during the absurdly-short, 10-day season. Had I been there three days later, I would not have been able to fish those same waters.
I have talked to anglers, tackle and boat dealers, marina owners, and state fisheries managers, as have many of my Gulf Congressional colleagues, about how to remedy perplexing federal management. A straightforward solution they have all recommended is to let state agencies—the folks with long track records of successful management of both recreational and commercial fishing and who are closest to the fishery day in and day out—manage red snapper, as well.
That is why I introduced a bipartisan solution: H.R. 3094, “The Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act.” States are in a position to immediately put into practice management approaches that correct federal missteps and use the best available science and data to conservatively manage this iconic Gulf fish.
This new authority would allow each state to work with anglers and charter captains to tailor fishing seasons and management efforts that work best. If anglers in Louisiana want to fish primarily on weekends, state management could be crafted to fit that. If Florida’s and Texas’s large party boat fleets want to be able to take as many spring break and summer vacation tourists as possible, management can allow that without it having potentially detrimental effects on Louisiana and Mississippi charter operations that take smaller groups throughout the year. And these nuanced approaches can be allowed, while continuing current commercial management, allowing fresh snapper to be served at restaurants across the Gulf.
While federal snapper management continues to push restricted access and contentious, overly-bureaucratic approaches, the states are working to gather better data and increase recreational fishing opportunities by successfully managing for consistent seasons and abundant fisheries. State and regional management approaches have been successfully implemented with the Alaskan salmon, the Dungeness crab on the West Coast, and the Atlantic striped bass on the East Coast. It’s time that the Gulf States were given the chance to succeed at red snapper management, as well.
Today, HR 3094 will be the subject of a House Natural Resources Subcommittee Hearing. This is an opportunity to harness the Gulf State agencies’ expertise to improve access for the enormous recreational fishing community in South Louisiana and the Gulf South, while sustainably managing our fisheries. I’m looking forward to the chance to explain how we can adopt a species management model that is sustainable and fair.