The Wild Side: Issues hot on federal, state levels

Some day in the not too distant future, let’s hope we don’t have to fight for our fishing and hunting rights.

Let’s hope Congress and our Legislature can spend their time better than to fend off moves by small groups bent on denying those rights.

That’s not today, and what’s happening in Congress and the Louisiana Legislature shows all is not right.

Last week, Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, filed a bill, the “Offshore Fairness Act,” in the 113th Congress.

Cassidy’s bill will push the seaward boundary of five Gulf States and five South Atlantic States out to three marine leagues. That’s the same push Louisiana made last year in our Legislature, and our Wildlife and Fisheries Commission took to move fisheries-only boundary waters to that mark.

There are provisions that these states would not be able to enact any law more restrictive or more severe “than the administrative or judicial penalty or sanction under current Federal law,” and it doesn’t touch the oil and gas mineral rights.

The bill’s main proviso hits at fishery rights. It tells the Commerce secretary to hand over the “exclusive fishery management authority over reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean in the expanded submerged land.”

Furthermore, the bill demands the Commerce secretary to turn over management of red snapper in these two areas to each state out to 200 miles, and that state management “remain in effect for any state until the state on which the governor of that state has certified to the Secretary of Commerce, in writing, that the governor is confident that the stock assessment of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for red snapper fish within the authority of the state … are (a) accurate and (b) based on sound science.

That just about sums up the angry points fishermen have been making for the past five years about today’s recreational red snapper debacle.

There’s another problem: the Magnusson-Stevens Fishery Management Act is up for reauthorization this year. This is the law the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, and other councils around the country, have been using to fiddle around with the quotas allowed for commercial and recreational catches for years.

Like others who seem bent on chipping away at the public’s fishing rights, these federal fisheries managers have overstepped their bounds, if for no other reason than they have ignored several provisions in Mag-Stevens that were designed to help maintain the economic power extant in the recreational fishing sector.

A further jab at the recreational sector came last week when Commerce asked for comments concerning a proposal to cut into the recreational fishing quotas and giving that cut to the charterboat industry.

Think things are hot now, just wait.

And next week, we’ll discuss what’s ahead in the Legislature.