Fisheries bill means relief

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, June 4, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

So often, it seems that Washington operates outside of the realm of common sense. The red snapper issue is no different, with the federal government refusing to sample on reefs for this reef fish, hurting our coastal communities. Thankfully, last week the House Natural Resources Committee, of which I am a member, passed the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.

This bill, which reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, was last reauthorized in 2006 and has jurisdiction over all federal fisheries — including authorizations for setting red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico each year.

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More than anything, our fishermen and coastal communities need relief. This bill will grant it to them.

First, the bill repeals Section 407(d) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which imposed inflexible quotas on red snapper fishing. Earlier this year, I introduced legislation called the SNAPR Act, which mirrors this language in order to give the courts added flexibility to restore our season back from the devastating nine days that was ordered this year.

Second, this legislation extends the Alabama state water boundary from the current three nautical miles to nine nautical miles from shore. Fishermen’s groups have made the case for this reform, arguing that it would effectively give the state more control over its own resources and the option for a more reasonable fishing season as well as creating equality in state water boundaries between all the Gulf states.

We know that the federal government’s incompetence in regulating this issue is the root of this problem. This is a step in the right direction to direct more power back to the states.

Finally, I am pleased the committee adopted my amendment to remove stock assessment and data collection responsibilities for reef fish currently held by the federal government. Local experts like Dr. Bob Shipp at the University of South Alabama have long argued that the federal government’s data collection practices are flawed and do not accurately reflect the red snapper stocks in the Gulf.

By removing this authority from the federal government and placing it in the hands of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, a state-run organization, we will clear the way for the Gulf Council to be able to rely on better data to make decisions moving forward.

This fight is not over, but we are making progress.

We are forcing the federal government to give back power to those who know what they are doing and have a vested interested in caring for these stocks.