US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross praises red snapper recreational pilot program
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressed praise on Tuesday, 17 April, for a pilot program that gives states along the Gulf of Mexico more power in managing the red snapper recreational fishery.
NOAA Fisheries previously unveiled a two-year pilot program giving partial control of the fishery to officials in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. All five states submitted applications that will enable them to manage the recreation fishery in both state waters, which run for the first nine miles off the coast, and federal waters, which extend beyond that.
"Granting these experimental fishing permits to all five states continues the work we started last year to expand recreational fishing opportunities through coordinated, Gulf-wide seasons,” Ross said. “We are going to give the states the opportunity to demonstrate effective management that improves recreational opportunities for all Americans. We will be working closely with the states and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to ensure effective conservation and management of the red snapper stock.”
Earlier this month, Alabama officials announced the state had received federal approval for a 47-day recreational season that will start on 1 June and end on Labor Day.
“This season will allow recreational anglers five more days to fish for red snapper compared to last year,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said. “I am proud we have been able to expand the red snapper season, which is a critical part of Alabama’s recreation and tourism industry.”
The pilot program comes as elected officials from Gulf states have tried to increase access for recreational anglers. Back in 2015, Congress voted down a proposal that would have given control of the entire fishery – both commercial and recreational – to the five states.
U.S. Representative Garrett Graves (R-Louisiana), who filed the 2015 initiative, currently has another bill in the House of Representatives that would give states authority to manage recreational fishing up to 25 miles off the coast.
Commercial fishermen and conservation groups have expressed concerns about proposals that expand recreational seasons, fearing that increased access could lead to overfishing.
However, Chris Oliver, the assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said in a statement that the program represents a “new management strategy” to bolster the fish stock and improve access for anglers. He also thanked the states for their willingness to participate.
“As a Texas native, I know how valuable the red snapper recreational fishery is to coastal businesses of the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.