State goes noncompliant on red snapper

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission and state fisheries managers reaffirmed their intentions to open the recreational red snapper season March 22 in state waters.

With the same stroke, the commission and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries confirmed plans to push state’s boundary waters for fisheries matters out to three marine leagues, or a distance of 10.357 miles off Louisiana’s coastline, which would open more waters to recreational red snapper catches.

The move defies the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s 2013 plan for a 27-day recreational red snapper beginning June 1 with a daily limit of two red snapper per angler.

The LWFC/LDWF plan, approved in June, includes opening the recreational red snapper season the Saturday of the weekend before Easter (March 23) and keeping it open March 24, then Fridays-through Sundays seasons every week through the summer with four-day Fridays-through-Mondays periods on Memorial Day and Labor Day holiday weekends.

Instead of the Gulf Council’s mandated two-fish-per-day limit, the state’s season allows a three-fish-per-day take, but retains the Gulf Council’s 16-inch minimum size for “keeper” red snapper.

Louisiana joins Texas as the only two of the five Gulf states in “noncompliance” status for this species. Texas has no season within the nine miles of its state waters.

There was no immediate response from the GMFMC, which is meeting in Mobile, Ala., to discuss. among other items, regulatory amendments to the 2013 red snapper quotas for Gulf of Mexico recreational and commercial fishing activities.

In October, LDWF assistant secretary Randy Pausina advised the commission a regional management plan Louisiana would offer to the Gulf Council. After meetings with the other four Gulf states and the Gulf Council, Pausina said the chance for the state to manage red snapper and possibly other species off the Louisiana coast and into federal waters “was a long process and we couldn’t expect that until the 2014 red snapper season.”

Pausina said he met Wednesday with the council’s Reef Fish Committee in Mobile and made a presentation to push for emergency regulations for recreational red snapper for the 2013 season.

“The plan failed in committee,” Pausina said. “Only Texas joined us and the vote failed 2-8.”

The push to become noncompliant and the regional management concept comes from growing discontent among Louisiana’s offshore recreational fishermen who have testified before the commission about the increasing number of red snapper off the state’s coast during the past 10 years.

The rancor progressed rapidly during the past five years as the council decreased the daily limit and reduced recreational red snapper seasons from summer-long, to 60 days, then 57 days, then 40 days and to the proposed 2013 27-day season.

LDWF secretary Robert Barham said the state’s position about managing the species was bolstered after Wednesday’s failed motion in the council’s Committee.

“Yet again, the Gulf Council refuses to work with Louisiana toward a more flexible management of our recreational fishery,” Barham said after LWFC reaffirmed its plans for the state’s 2013 season.

“In a final effort to save the 2013 red snapper recreational season with compatible regulations, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife of Fisheries offered a commonsense approach to the Gulf Council to modify the 2013 season and allow anglers more opportunities to recreationally fish for red snapper. Our attempts at a favorable outcome failed.

“We have said time and again that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that will work for the entire Gulf Coast when it comes to recreational fishing, which is why we proposed state-by-state or regional management,” Barham said. “The approach of the Gulf Council is outdated and stagnant. Louisiana believes that no one cares more about or can better manage our resources than our department.

“The unwillingness of the Gulf Council to work with us on these matters has left me, my staff and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commissioners no choice but to move forward with state regulations that will directly contradict those of our federal counterparts.

“In the next 30 days, my staff will work with the commissioners to decide on a path forward that best suits Louisiana’s recreational sector,” Barham said. “We remain open to further discussion with any and all interested parties.”

CCA-Louisiana’s executive director David Cresson said the state’s position adopted in June gave the Gulf Council enough time to act and react to the situation.

“We believe that the state has a better record historically when it comes to managing fish than the federal government,” Cresson said. “The state set this process in motion last year and gave the (federal) government nine months to develop a better plan and, in the meantime, presented a comprehensive, well-thought-out plan and that was voted down. It’s more evidence that the federal government and the Gulf Council are turning their back on recreational anglers.”

Louisiana Wildlife Federation spokesman Chris Macaluso said the organization is developing a resolution backing the state for its plans for regional management.

“We think this (Louisiana) move was inevitable,” Macaluso said. “The council has not left the states with any other choice.”

Speaking for the LWF’s Freshwater and Saltwater Fisheries Committee, Macaluso said the Gulf Council is hiding behind some portions and failing to consider other portions of the Magnuson-Stephens Act, which authorizes the Gulf Council and the seven other fishery councils in the country.

“We’re dug into the Magnuson-Stevens Act and it requires that the (councils) take into consideration scientific data when applied to managing stocks of fish and requires a study of economic impact of their actions.

“When you look at the information provided by the Gulf Council, it shows the western Gulf (of Mexico) is eight times more abundant for red snapper than the eastern Gulf,” Macaluso said. “Knowing that and then to give fishermen 27 days for what, by all accounts, is a robust red snapper fishery means (the council) is failing to take into account the economic impact of the fishery.

“It’s penalizing the fishermen in the western Gulf for the benefits of those fishermen in the eastern part of the Gulf,” Macaluso said. “The council is challenging each state to do what Louisiana has done. It has given them no other choice.”