Chris Horton, Fisheries Program Director, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
It was Albert Einstein who said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. The continued trend of shorter and shorter recreational red snapper seasons under federal management, despite an abundant, healthy red snapper population, certainly seems insane. As a frequent Gulf Coast angler, I think we can all agree – it is time we think outside the box and break out of this federal mismanagement.
On the surface, the announcement by Governor John Bel Edwards in a press release by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) on May 25th that they plan “to conduct an innovative pilot program designed to help recreational anglers battling short seasons for red snapper in federal waters,” may sound like a genuine attempt at thinking outside the box. However, in reality the LDWF proposal would make the box smaller, and the circumstances leading to the announcement were anything but genuine.
The proposal, which is in the form of an exempted fishing permit (EFP) to NOAA Fisheries, would seek to allow LDWF to conduct a two-year pilot program in which 150 anglers would be allocated 25,000 pounds of red snapper – outside of any season and in either state or federal waters. This sounds great if you are among the 150 lucky anglers of the approximately 20,000 who fish offshore in Louisiana. After the pilot is complete, NOAA’s southeast regional administrator could decide to make the program permanent.
In describing the proposed EFP, LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said, “So, we are going to test a new way of doing this. Instead of using a season, we are going to try giving fishermen a set number of red snapper that they can catch in federal waters and ask them to record that data on their smartphone.”
The use of smartphones to collect better harvest data is something the recreational angling community has supported for years, provided it is not associated with a program to allocate a set number of fish or pounds to certain individuals. With this new pilot program, that is exactly what the EFP would do – allocate snapper to certain individuals and not others.
This idea seems oddly similar to the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) catch share system in the Gulf of Mexico’s commercial red snapper fishery, where a few commercial fishermen were gifted a percentage of all the commercial quota. No matter how anti-angling/preservationist groups like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and others try to spin it, allowing some to harvest a public resource while excluding others is fundamentally counter to the Public Trust Doctrine and the principal that our nation’s natural resources belong to us all. The fact that a state agency would even suggest a form of catch shares for recreational anglers, which are inherently designed to reduce participation, is inexplicable.
Louisiana’s recreational anglers, including charter boat captains, have vehemently rejected any notion of fish tags or individual quotas for the recreational sector. They made this clear while meeting with Secretary Montoucet shortly after he took office. Senator Bret Allain, a member of the Louisiana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus who is opposed to this notion, introduced a bill (S. 207) before Louisiana’s legislature to reduce LDWF funding if they pursue this approach. Despite strong opposition for this EFP from the entire community, they plan to move forward anyway.
Perhaps the most disappointing, and telling, aspect of this whole fiasco is the event that occurred one day prior to the press release announcing the EFP. Representatives of Louisiana’s recreational saltwater fishing community, including captains and staff of the Louisiana Charter Boat Association, met with LDWF staff and Assistant Secretary for Fisheries, Patrick Banks, to discuss management of the state’s saltwater fisheries (including greater amberjack, red and gag grouper, triggerfish, and red snapper) out to 200 nautical miles if the state was granted the management authority to do so. Not once did the LDWF representatives mention the details of the EFP they already planned to move forward with the next day. Instead, the LDWF let the meeting attendees believe their management suggestions were genuinely welcomed. Twenty-four hours later, they discovered that their input was nothing more than checking a box. Needless to say, they feel deceived by an agency with whom they have trusted and worked with for decades.
Clearly the leadership of LDWF has an agenda. Unfortunately, the LDWF agenda seems to be the same as EDF’s – don’t’ think outside the box, just shrink it so there are fewer anglers inside.
UPDATE: During the June Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) meeting in Naples, Florida, Louisiana tabled their EFP proposal until at least the August Gulf Council meeting. The move was due in large part to the outcry from Sportsmen’s Paradise anglers, as well as the state legislature. With 62-bipartisan sponsors from both chambers, most of them members of the Louisiana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, HCR 113 urged the LDWF not to move forward with the proposal. The resolution passed the senate on a vote of 29-0 and the house with 86-5 in favor.
While this was a temporary victory for recreational anglers, an EFP for Louisiana’s private recreational anglers is still alive and could see movement at the next Gulf Council meeting. Hopefully by that time, the LDWF will have worked with anglers in developing an agenda that is more in line with ultimately promoting, rather than constraining, recreational fishing access.
More Good News For Gulf Red Snapper Anglers: In an unprecedented maneuver by the Department of Commerce (DOC), Secretary Ross announced on Wednesday (June 14) that the federal recreational red snapper season would reopen for 39 days, encompassing 3-day weekends and holidays from June 16 until September 4. The announcement followed an agreement reached between DOC and the five Gulf states to bring the state seasons in line with the new federal season during the summer months. While this is welcome news, the relief is only temporary, and it will be up to Congress to get us out of this federal management debacle for the long term. Read more…