On December 4, a hearing was held by the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs on the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act (H.R. 3099), introduced by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) members Congressman Jeff Miller (FL) and Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA). H.R. 3099 would give the states, under a cooperative management plan developed through the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, the authority to manage the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. Currently, recreational anglers and state management agencies in the Gulf of Mexico have low confidence in the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council’s ability to manage the red snapper fishery.
Robert Barham, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, testified at the hearing. “We have tried to work through the council process, but the council process is not working,” said Barham. “If it was [working], there would be no reason for this bill and I would not be standing before you today. NMFS itself even recognizes that new and innovative solutions are needed to manage the Gulf red snapper fishery. The Gulf states are that solution.”
Alabama’s Director of Marine Resources Chris Blankenship echoed the need for a state-based solution. “If H.R. 3099 was implemented, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission would conduct stock assessments for red snapper annually and then each of the five Gulf States would submit a plan to manage the fishery adjacent to their state. I think this has a great deal of potential.” Director Blankenship concluded his testimony by noting, “I feel that Alabama has more of an opportunity to manage this fishery in totality under the provisions of H.R. 3099 than we currently have under NOAA Fisheries and current federal law.”
While the red snapper population rapidly rebuilds, management of the fishery has grown increasingly contentious, as recreational anglers are given fewer and fewer days to fish. “Despite the healthiest population of red snapper on record, June 1 of this year signaled the start of the shortest federal recreational red snapper season in the history of the Gulf of Mexico. The inability of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council to provide angling opportunities proportional to the rapid growth of the red snapper population is symptomatic of a fatally flawed federal management system that is systematically failing Gulf Coast anglers and the communities they support,” stated Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) President Jeff Crane in a letter to the Subcommittee Chairs prior to the December 4 hearing.
In October, the Council added to the controversy by voting to approve an amendment to divide the recreational component into two sectors, the charter/for hire industry and private recreational anglers, despite stiff opposition, including a letter from CSC House Co-Chairs, Congressman Bennie Thompson (MS) and Congressman Bob Latta (OH).
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?