Red snapper season is literally ‘on the line’

Published 5:54 pm Tuesday, April 22, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

On March 27, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the federal government failed to properly regulate the established quotas for Red Snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Based upon this finding, earlier this month the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted in an emergency meeting to shorten the 2014 red snapper season from its original 40 days to 11 days this summer.

Unnecessarily stringent restrictions on fishing have effects far beyond our charter boats, commercial vessels and private anglers. Local bait and tackle shops, gas stations and marinas, boat dealers, restaurants, grocery stores and the hospitality industry all bear the impact of overly restrictive fisheries management policies. Tourists book trips months in advance of the summer season to fish on charter boats, stay in local residences and hotels and eat at local restaurants that all feature red snapper on the menu.

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The Alabama coast clearly depends heavily on this industry, and an 11-day red snapper season would be a devastating blow to these coastal communities. This decision merely highlights the fact that our regulatory system in the Gulf of Mexico is unquestionably broken, and that significant reforms must be made to achieve any kind of a workable solution.

Earlier this month, I introduced the Supporting New Avenues for Protecting our fishermen’s Resources (SNAPR) Act to provide relief to these coastal communities reliant on a more reasonable Red Snapper season. This bill is simple: it repeals the mandatory quotas under the Magnuson-Stevens law governing Red Snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. By repealing this section which played a significant part in the Court’s decision, I am confident we will give the Gulf Council sufficient flexibility to reverse their decision limiting the Red Snapper season to 11 days. We have to take action to alleviate this burden on our Gulf coast communities. I’m working with my colleagues on the House Natural Resources Committee to communicate the urgent need for reform to provide emergency relief right away to these fishermen. ?

In the long term, I firmly believe that in order to reach a solution that works, the federal government must be cut out of this process entirely. NOAA has proven it is completely incapable of providing sound science that accurately portrays the health of the Red Snapper fishery in the Gulf, and the federal government’s regulatory framework is clearly flawed. As we move forward with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act reauthorization in the Natural Resources Committee later this year, I’ll look for solutions that return more power to the states and give fishermen a red snapper season based in reality, not flawed science.

Bradley Byrne is the U.S. representative for the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.