Louisiana senators and representatives have introduced companion legislation in Congress that would give states management authority of red snapper out to 25 miles or 25 fathoms, whichever is greater, off their coastlines. Currently, states control red snapper out to nine nautical miles.

Both Louisiana senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, introduced the bill in the Senate, while Reps. Garret Graves, Cedric Richmond and Clay Higgins joined seven other representatives to propose the House bill.

The legislation is designed to ensure Gulf of Mexico anglers have broader access to rebounding red snapper stocks during 2018 and beyond. This year, the Commerce Department gave recreational anglers 39 additional days in federal waters after NOAA Fisheries set a three-day recreational season.

That move is being contested in court, and without legislation to address the issue, recreational anglers could be locked out of the fishery in 2018.

Graves said the need for legislation is overdue.

“Something has to change,” he said. “It is time to replace the status quo with a management system that more accurately reflects today’s red snapper private recreational fishery.”

Kennedy was even more forceful. In a press release, he called federal management of red snapper a “disaster” and said recreational anglers have been left out of the discussion.

“It makes no sense to leave people who don’t know the difference between a red snapper and a red-nosed reindeer in complete control,” he said.

Currently, the annual red snapper quota is divided between the commercial and recreational sectors. The recreational quota, however, is divvied up between private-boat anglers and the charter-fishing fleet. The federal season has shrunk every year as all five Gulf states have gone non-compliant with federal regulations and opened extended seasons in state waters. Most of the recreational quota is caught every year by anglers fishing the nine nautical miles that states control.

Graves’ office said expanding that range wouldn’t hurt red snapper stocks because most of the fish live in waters deeper than 25 fathoms (150 feet). Those red snapper would still be protected from harvest.

The legislation was lauded by leaders of the recreational-fishing industry, including the Center for Sportfishing Policy, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association.

Environmental groups, however, are opposed to expansion of red snapper harvest in the Gulf. Research by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows the 39-day expansion of the season in 2017 will likely result in overall recreational harvest of 9 million to 11.5 million pounds of red snapper, far exceeding the 3.8 million pounds federal fish managers say is a safe limit.

Red snapper stocks plummeted in the 1990s and 2000s due to decades of overfishing, but the fish have rebounded to the point many anglers say it’s difficult to get away from them in the Gulf to catch other species.

Todd Masson, The Times – Picayune

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