Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission eyes its legal options

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission took an unprecedented move Thursday, granting Department of Wildlife and Fisheries secretary Robert Barham the authority to take legal action against the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and its administrator, Roy Crabtree, over the state’s regulatory powers regarding the recreation take of red snapper from the gulf.

The 5-0 vote came after the commission turned aside GMFMC’s June 1 opening of a 27-day, two-per-day recreational red snapper season in favor of Louisiana’s three-day weekend seasons and three-per-day red snapper regulations that began in late March. The commission also extended state fishery waters from 3 miles to 3 marine leagues — or 10.357 miles — into the gulf.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the gulf council, recognizes the 3-mile limit for Louisiana’s state waters into the gulf.

On March 22, the day before Louisiana opened its recreational red snapper season, Crabtree announced that Louisiana’s red snapper season in federal waters would be cut from 27 days to nine, the fewest among the five gulf states.

“We believe Roy Crabtree’s actions to be arbitrary and capricious,” Barham said after Thursday’s meeting in Baton Rouge. “It appears to be punitive and not based in fact or data.”

Pecan Island commission member Billy Broussard said Crabtree’s move was retaliation for what he believes was Louisiana’s right to provide more opportunity for recreational anglers in what data shows is an ever-increasing population of red snapper off the state’s coast.

“We want Mr. Crabtree to explain why he took the action he did,” Broussard said, “and to give Secretary Barham the ability to pursue the state’s case should the need arise before the commission meets again.”

The commission next meets May 2 in Baton Rouge, a date the commission indicated would be too late to pursue the matter in court before the federally mandated June 1 season opens.

Other commission action Thursday included:

  • Hearing an updated report from Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority director Garrett Graves on the state’s Coastal Master Plan. Graves said projected spending is $767.3 million during fiscal year 2014.
  • Hearing updates on public comments for the 2013-15 hunting seasons and wildlife management area regulations, comments that included several objections to doe-take-only days in newly formed deer hunting areas, most of which were adversely affected by Hurricane Isaac.
  • Approving a plan to change resident and nonresident alligator hunting licenses and tag-issue periods from a July 1 to June 30 period to the calendar year. LDWF Alligator Program leader Noel Kinler said the move will help better control issuing alligator tags during the year they are to be used.
  • Approving a change in the use of yo-yo devices on Lake St. Joseph to ban their use on poles set in the lake bed.
  • Learning that, for the second consecutive month, there were no boating fatalities in the state and that state Enforcement Division agents issued 826 citations and 437 written warnings during March.
  • Hearing from Louisiana Wildlife Federation executive director Rebecca Triche that the organization urges the commission to recover the $44 million taken by the Louisiana Legislature from the LDWF’s Artificial Reef Fund Program during the 2010 and 2011 Legislative sessions.
  • Set its August meeting for Aug. 1 at a location to be named.