May 1, 2013 (MASGP-13-001-5)
GOVERNORS WEIGH IN ON RED SNAPPER DEBATE–
LOUISIANA AND TEXAS FILE LAWSUIT
On April 17, 2013, the governors of four Gulf states released a joint letter to the leadership of the U.S. House and Senate that states current federal management of Gulf red snapper is evidence of a system that is "irretrievably broken," and calls for passage of legislation that would replace it with a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management. The governors' letter calls on Congress to establish a better fishery management approach for Gulf red snapper based on interstate management measures coordinated by the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, citing their belief that a coordinated Gulf states partnership would be more capable of delivering a robust fishery that is more accessible for their citizens.
"The Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery has a historic and significant economic benefit to the Gulf coastal states and the nation. However, federal management conflicts impacting both the commercial and recreational sectors have created a situation that is negatively impacting the coastal economies and citizens of our states," the letter says. It si signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi. "With a stock that is recovering steadily, our recreational anglers are being allowed to fish less and less, and there is no hint of willingness from NOAA Fisheries to deviate from this present, unsatisfactory course. As governors of Gulf states, we believe this confusing management is just the latest evidence of a federal management system that is irretrievably broken."
"By encouraging Congress to allow the states to effectively manage red snapper and pass legislation to give the Gulf coastal States management authority for this resource, the governors clearly share our desire for a new vision in fisheries management," said Venable Proctor, chairman of CCA National. "The federal system has had decades to get this fishery on track, and yet it still insists on a path that leads inevitably to a dead-end. We are grateful to the governors for promoting a viable alternative for fisheries management, and we look forward to working with Congress to see that this sensible management model becomes law."
On April 22, 2013, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and its Commission, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) joined together to file a lawsuit in United States District Court in Brownsville, Texas challenging an emergency regulation enacted by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that, if left in place, would allow the NMFS regional administrator to significantly reduce the recreational red snapper season in federal waters off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
“The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC), on behalf of recreational fishermen and those whose livelihood depends on reasonable access to red snapper stocks, has taken this action to send the message to NMFS that a nine-day season for Louisiana landings is totally unreasonable and unacceptable, said Ronald “Ronny” Graham, LWFC chairman. “While we would prefer a cooperative regional management approach and are still hopeful that we can reach such a resolution, TPWD has a responsibility to take legal action to protect our state’s authority to manage the red snapper fishery within Texas waters,” said T. Dan Friedkin of Houston, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission chairman. “We have heard loudly and clearly from our anglers and other stakeholders that they expect nothing less from us.”
On Feb. 8, over the strong objections of state agency representatives from Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) voted to implement an emergency rule that could shorten the recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters off the Texas coast to as few as 12 days and to nine days off the Louisiana coast, down from a projected 22-day season. In 2012, the snapper season in federal waters throughout the Gulf was 46 days. In contrast, because snapper stocks are doing well and growing in the Gulf, snapper fishing is allowed 365 days a year in Texas state waters and 88 days in Louisiana state waters. Just weeks later, on April 18, the Gulf council voted 8 to 7 to overturn the emergency rule, in effect reversing the Feb. 8 vote. Louisiana and Texas representatives said the lawsuit was an added measure of enforceability should NMFS not act on the latest council motion prior to the start of red snapper season June 1. The federal court has been asked to expedite its consideration of the case so that a decision is reached before June 1.
As published in the federal register on March 25, the emergency rule would authorize the National Marine Fisheries Service southeast regional administrator to reduce the red snapper season in federal exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters off Louisiana and Texas. The federal EEZ extends 200 miles from the coastline and has an inner boundary that is coterminous with each state’s territorial boundary. Territorial waters off Texas extend nine miles from the state’s coast. Louisiana’s state territorial waters have traditionally been three miles, but in June 2012, the LWFC declared the gulfward boundary for Louisiana to be nine miles for the purposes of fisheries management, implementing the will of the Louisiana Legislature as expressed in Act 336 of 2011. The action taken by the LWFC to extend the state territorial boundary has not been recognized by Congress nor has it been adjudicated in court. The rule affects Florida as well, since all three states have refused to shorten snapper seasons in state waters to mirror seasons set by NMFS for federal waters.
"I am hopeful that NMFS will follow the Gulf Council and overturn the emergency rule that arbitrarily reduces the red snapper season in Louisiana's territorial waters to no more than nine days,” said Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell. “However, this lawsuit is a necessary step to protect the State's ability to set reasonable fishing regulations for in-state waters for the benefit of Louisiana's residents and anglers." The joint lawsuit alleges that there is no emergency to justify such a rule. The two states also allege that the emergency rule violates the federal policy of cooperative federalism by improperly attempting to regulate the red snapper season in state waters. Although LDWF and TPWD are continuing to work with NMFS and the other Gulf states on a solution, the short deadline for challenging the emergency regulation required filing the lawsuit to preserve the states’ ability to address the issue in a timely and effective manner.
The Louisiana and Texas agencies maintain that while a proposed shortened season will have no apparent conservation benefit, it would definitely have an economic impact. For Louisiana, reducing a 46-day season to a nine-day season could result in an estimated decline in economic value of approximately $8 million to recreational anglers in that state. TPWD estimates that the originally projected 27-day season would generate at least $28 million from recreational fishermen in Texas, while a 12-day season would cut that figure by at least $16 million in lost retail sales in Texas.
COMMERCIAL SALTWATER LICENSES SOLD AT PASS CHRISTIAN HARBOR
Commercial saltwater licenses are being sold on a limited basis at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) Pass Christian Oyster Check Station. The Oyster Check Station is located in the new Colonel George J. Wright, Sr. building at 175 South Market St. in the Pass Christian Harbor. The limited commercial saltwater licenses are available for purchase April 15 through May 31 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday 8a.m.-3p.m. The limited commercial sales at this location are being offered due to the expected high seasonal demand for commercial saltwater licenses, and as a convenience to commercial harvesters. You can also purchase licenses Monday through Friday 8a.m. to 5p.m. at the MDMR office located at 1141 Bayview Ave., Biloxi, Mississippi.
ADMINISTRATION RELEASES OCEAN PLAN
On April 16, 2013, the Obama Administration released its final plan for translating the National Ocean Policy into on-the-ground actions to benefit the American people. Without creating any new regulations or authorities, the plan will ensure the many Federal agencies involved in ocean management work together to reduce duplication and red tape and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently. Our oceans and coasts support tens of millions of jobs and contribute trillions of dollars a year to the national economy through tourism, development, commercial fishing, recreational fishing and boating, energy, shipping, and other activities. Competition for increasingly vulnerable ocean resources is growing, presenting challenges for Federal agencies that follow and enforce more than 100 ocean-related laws. The final Implementation Plan describes specific actions Federal agencies will take to address key ocean challenges, give states and communities greater input in Federal decisions, streamline Federal operations, save taxpayer dollars, and promote economic growth, including:
- Providing better forecasting of ocean conditions and events to protect beachgoers and consumers from threats to their health and safety;
- Sharing more and better data about severe storms and sea level rise, which will help coastal communities prepare for threats;
- Supporting voluntary regional marine planning based on regional and local priorities;
- Improving the Federal permitting process to save time and money for ocean-based industries and taxpayers, while protecting health, safety, and the environment;
- Restoring important habitats that protect communities and support healthy ocean resources; and
- Improving our capability to predict conditions and prevent negative impacts as activity in the Arctic increases.
The final Plan incorporates suggestions from the significant public input received on the draft, including key support for local and regional capacity and self-determination, and the development of more and better information related to ocean conditions. The Plan specifies that regional stakeholders will determine the scope, scale and content of collaborative marine planning, that participation is voluntary, and that regional planning bodies will be established only in regions that want them. It also recognizes the broad interests in the Arctic in national security, domestic energy and natural resources, and environmental and cultural sustainability as it becomes more accessible due to climate change. Under the Plan, agencies will work together to address challenges in the Arctic region, focusing on data management, accurate mapping and charting, sea-ice forecasting, and readiness for environmental incident response. To read the Implementation Plan, please visit www.whitehouse.gov/oceans.