The Wild Side for Dec. 30, 2012

Isaac shows restoration a must-do

My first thought venturing into a new year is that Hurricane Isaac likely was 2012’s top outdoors story.

It’s not that this minimum hurricane overpowered south Louisiana. Instead, it’s that the storm showed how destructive a Category I storm can be as long as our state continues to suffer through prolonged coastal land loss.

Floods in LaPlace and low lands across the Lake Maurepas drainage area are proof that we might have lost the last line of defense south of Interstate 12. Future storms invading the Maurepas-Pontchartrain Basin could have significant impact on places like Hammond and Baton Rouge, places we believed would be forever free of hurricane-caused flood threats.

The fact that animals in McElroy Swamp suffered through a prolonged period of Isaac-caused storm waters, and that hunters’ deer seasons were reduced by as much as 50 days, should be a wake-up call to tell us that coastal restoration will mean more to south Louisiana than saving our coastal parishes from the ravages of storms and sea-level rise.

The real test for everyone who calls Louisiana home will be to make sure all monies coming from the RESTORE Act, from fines levied against BP, go to the projects outlined in the State Coastal Restoration Master Plan.

For fishermen, the biggest carryover into 2013 is the state’s plan for regional offshore management.

In January and February, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will determine if the five Gulf States, led by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ initiative, will be handed the authority to manage species like red snapper, grouper, other reef fisheries and deep-water species like yellowfin tuna.

And there will be the test to find out if our state’s plan to push our fishing waters out to nine miles, from the current three-mile limit. It’s a push that has the backing of Mississippi and Alabama fish and game agencies that have the same 3-mile restriction as our state’s fishermen. That comes amidst long-standing boundaries that grant Florida and Texas state-controlled waters out to 9 miles.

The push for state management of federal waters had led to a rare agreement among the five Gulf States for a 9-mile, Gulf-wide state-waters limit when the GMFMC meetings convene on reef-fish management and quotas come during the next seven weeks.

This issue of managing reef fish, especially red snapper, could be a defining moment in commercial and recreational activity in state and federal waters. Louisiana plans to ask for 15 percent of the total allowable catch of red snapper off our coast (and landings in our state) from the Gulf of Mexico’s quota for 2013.

Plans are to allow the recreational red snapper season to open in April and go Fridays-to-Sundays throughout the summer. That alone is a big enough reason to believe 2013 could be a milestone for Louisiana anglers.

Happy New Year!