Controversial Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery bill advances

Published on
June 16, 2016

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources advanced a bill on Wednesday, 15 June regarding red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico that would extend Southern states’ control over federal waters and establish a new management authority to replace the oversight of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

The action moves the legislation on to face a potential vote by the full body of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill, H.R. 3094, or the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act, was authored by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana). The proposed legislation would remove the red snapper fishery from federal management under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and give management authority of the species to an agency overseen by fishery managers representing five Southern states with borders on the Gulf of Mexico.

“States can do it better, which is why I’ll continue working with my bipartisan colleagues until this bill is passed in full House of Representatives,” Graves said in an announcement after the bill made it through the Natural Resources Committee.

Commercial and recreational fishing interests have been feuding over the limited share of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico since a new federal system of regulating the fishery took effect in 2007. The new legislation is an attempt to give recreational fishermen more control of the red snapper fishery and a greater share of the quota, which is currently split nearly evenly with commercial fishermen, according to Tom O’Connell, director of fish conservation at the Ocean Conservancy, who opposes the bill.

“The Graves bill only says the states will create standards for fishery management. There’s no clarity as to how those standards would be developed. The bill lacks defined standards to ensure sustainability and fair and equitable use of red snapper,” O’Connell said. “There are no protocols to ensure scientists provide management advice and no pathway for fishermen to be involved in the management process. Such standards and stakeholder engagement are explicitly defined in the Magnuson-Stevens Act and currently used to manage federal fisheries across the United States.”

The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, a group representing commercial red snapper fishermen, also opposes the bill, arguing the precedent it sets may be used to roll back federal regulations of regional U.S. fisheries.

"From the pollock and halibut fishermen in Alaska to the cod fishermen in Maine and Massachusetts, your fishing and charter businesses will be put at risk when rogue state bureaucrats go to strip you from the protections you have under the Magnuson[-Stevens] Act and force this plan on you against your will,” the organization’s deputy director, Eric Brazer, said in a press release.

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