Agreement reached in lawsuit over extension of red snapper season

The U.S. Department of Commerce has reached an agreement with two environmental advocacy groups that took it to court over a decision to extend the recreational red snapper fishing season by 39 days in the Gulf of Mexico.

Under the agreement, approved Wednesday, 20 December by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the government announced that the extension of the 2017 season “was a one-time action” it has opted not to defend  the decision at this time. Further, government officials plan to give a 2018 recreational red snapper season projection by early February and finalize the length of the season around 20 April. 

Ocean Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund will have seven days after the finalization to challenge it in court. After that, all parties will have three days to either reach a joint agreement or present their own proposals to the court.

The current rebuilding plan for the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico has a deadline of 2032. Conservation officials said it’s important to make sure that plan stays on schedule.

“Ocean Conservancy filed this lawsuit to ensure we stay on this path, and that we don’t slide back into the bad old days of allowing overfishing on important stocks like red snapper,” said Chris Dorsett, the vice president of conservation policy and programs for Ocean Conservancy. “The decision by the judge to maintain jurisdiction over the recreational red snapper season for 2018 is an important step in ensuring that future management decisions are focused on sustainability and accountability, for the benefit of both the fish and fishermen.”

The lawsuit was filed in July, a month after the administration of President Donald Trump extended the season from three to 42 days by adding weekends and holidays. That season ended on 4 September. 

Current data from NOAA Fisheries shows that anglers exceeded their catch limit by more than 50 percent, a figure expected to rise because not all the reports have been published. 

Advocates fear the recreational haul, when combined with the commercial catch, will cause the red snapper in the gulf to be overfished for the first time in six years. 

Environmental groups add that even just one event like the 2017 recreational season extension could affect the rebuilding plan by as much as six years.

“We want to see broken recreational management fixed in a way that promotes flexible access for anglers while protecting the balance amongst all user groups,” said Robert E. Jones, director of EDF’s Gulf of Mexico Oceans Program. Solutions must include safeguards that adhere to the best available science and prevent overfishing because I do not want to return to the days of my childhood in Corpus Christi when we could barely find red snapper to catch. We have come too far to throw all of this progress out the window.”


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