February 8, 2018 – In an effort to keep our supporters informed about the threats and opportunities facing the Gulf, we are starting a regular news roundup like the one below.
Last week, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council recommended the approval of five Gulf state proposals to test state management of recreational fishing for red snapper. While there are a lot of critical details to hammer out before the projects hit the water, this could be an encouraging step in the effort to fix the currently broken recreational management process. While the states may be best equipped to manage private recreational anglers, it is clear that the vast majority of federal charter boat captains and commercial fishermen want to stay under federal management and should be excluded from this experiment.
If approved, the proposals (submitted to NOAA as exempted fishing permits, or EFPs for short) would allow each Gulf state to set the start and end dates for recreational harvest of red snapper in Gulf state and federal waters. Several of the states would also test new data collection systems for tracking harvest. The Council’s approval was contingent on the condition that the decision to include federal charter and for-hire vessels by some states (Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana) not result in a reduced federal charter for-hire season.
Two bills pending in Congress (H.R. 200 and S. 1520) could stifle innovative fishery solutions by adding restrictions and hurdles to the exempted fishing permit (EFP) process. The ability to test new approaches at the regional level is allowed under the Magnuson-Steven’s Act (MSA) through the use of EFPs. These permits allow for scientists and fishermen to conduct research, test new technology, or pilot innovative management approaches. If those bills pass as they are, regional fishery councils and NMFS might not be able to pilot experimental solutions like those mentioned above by the Gulf states in the future. Take a moment to tell Congress to keep the MSA strong and continue to allow for innovation through the current EFP process.
Dozens of prominent New Orleans chefs recently sent a letter to Congress encouraging legislators to protect the strong science-based conservation standards of our top fisheries law. The MSA does more than just create opportunities for innovation—its tenets have enabled the U.S. to boast one of the best regulatory systems in the world. In fact, the MSA has successfully rebuilt over 40 species, several of which are essential to the commercial fishing, restaurant, and tourism industries. Prominent chef, restaurant owner, and Share the Gulf member Ryan Prewitt recently expressed his support for fair access for seafood-lovers—access that doesn’t jeopardize the hard-fought recovery of red snapper made possible by a strong MSA.
Preliminary numbers from the recent Gulf council meeting illustrate the importance of strong conservation measures and accountability. In 2017, a decision to extend the private angler red snapper season in contradiction to MSA’s requirements resulted in private recreational angler landings exceeding the science-based fishing target by 212% and the annual catch limit by 170%. Ensuring that private anglers stay within science-based catch limits is core to the MSA and will be essential to any state management program.