Trump versus EDF in battle over Gulf red snapper season reopening

Published on
July 18, 2017

A month after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump reopened the red snapper fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico for 39 days, two environmental nonprofits have challenged the decision by filing a lawsuit.

A 14 June agreement struck between The U.S. Department of Commerce and the five U.S. states on the Gulf of Mexico aligned the 2017 federal and states red snapper season for recreational anglers, opening federal waters to private anglers for an additional 39 weekend days and holidays. The agreement made no change to the quota or season length for the charter or commercial sectors of the fishery.

On Monday, 17 July, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Ocean Conservancy filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., arguing the decision was made without scientific analysis and puts into jeopardy the ongoing recovery of the red snapper population in the Gulf, in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit also complains the season was extended without adequate notice or time for public comment, claiming that violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

“In order to prevent overfishing and allow the Gulf of Mexico red snapper population to rebuilt, the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires the Fisheries Service to comply with the annual catch limit and accountability measures established in the fishery management plan for the red snapper fishery,” the suit states. “Yet, in the temporary rule, the Fisheries Service has extended the fishing season of red snapper for private anglers in a manner that conflicts with the FMP and implementing regulations.”

In a statement emailed to SeafoodSource, EDF said publicly available data and conservative assumptions show the extended season will result in private anglers catching three times their science-based limit in 2017. However, the lawsuit does not seek changes to the length of the 2017 fishing season, but rather, it aims to prohibit the Commerce Department from taking similar actions in the future.

In its federal notice reopening the red snapper season, the Commerce Department acknowledged the additional fishing days “will necessarily mean that the private recreational sector will substantially exceed its annual catch limit,” resulting in a  delay of the goal year for rebuilding the red snapper fishery from 2032 to 2038. In 17 of the past 22 years, the recreational sector has exceeded its annual catch limit for red snapper, resulting in shorter federal seasons as one year’s overages are subtracted from the next year’s quota. However, Gulf states have responded by lengthening their own red snapper seasons, resulting in a patchwork of regulations that scientific and environmental groups assert impedes recovery of the species.

David Cresson, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana, a nonprofit that advocates for recreational fishers, called the red snapper resource “plentiful” in an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser.

“The quotas are based on bad science and unfair allocations and a faulty system,” Cresson said.

The American Sportfishing Association also supported the reopening of the red snapper fishery this season, saying it will help the local economy in the Gulf region.

“Today’s announcement providing additional Gulf red snapper fishing days is a welcome relief for the thousands of tackle shops, marinas, equipment manufacturers and other businesses who have suffered from decreasing public access to Gulf red snapper in recent years,” ASA Conservation Director Mike Leonard said in a release. “We appreciate this immediate action to extend the 2017 red snapper season, but recognize that there’s much more work to be done. ASA will continue to push for long-term solutions for the federal fisheries management system as a whole, and Gulf red snapper specifically, to better achieve conservation goals and public access.”

In a statement sent to SeafoodSource, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, which represents the commercial sector, said it “shared the concerns raised the in lawsuit” and agreed that the change in fishery management could have a “major, negative impact” on red snapper stock.

“We have long believed that decisions related to fisheries management must be founded on sound science and broad stakeholder input. Commercial fishermen rely upon sustainable fisheries for our livelihoods, and American businesses and consumers depend on our efforts for reliable supplies of seafood,” the organization’s deputy director, Eric Brazer, said. “That is why we support a long-term solution to this situation that improves access to red snapper, while preserving the sustainability of this vital fishery in the Gulf for today and for future generations of fishermen and consumers.”

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