In the Gulf of Mexico, a small cadre of recreational fishing interests spearheaded by the American Sportfishing Association, the Coastal Conservation Association and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation are continuing their misguided assault against our nation’s public waters and marine fish resources.
Suffer no illusions, the ASA, the CCA, and the CSF want to shift federal management of our waters to the states to circumvent the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its successful mission to end overfishing by using science-based rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits. Their actions are a calculated move to devolve management to the states for the wealthiest of folks that can afford boats that can reach a deep water reef fish, while denying access to anglers that hire charter for-hire fishermen to meet the fishery and a stable commercial fishery that provides food and commerce security to thousands of restaurants and fish houses across the nation.
The Gulf’s recreational fishing interests have lost a number of touchstone initiatives to realize their public water grab: there have been a handful of bills from Gulf Congressmen to shift management to the states, a number of amendments on various bills to accomplish the same, and Garrett Graves’s (R-LA) H.R. 3094 “Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act” that essentially shifts all control of red snapper to the states with tepid, if little, oversight of one of the Gulf’s most iconic species, none of which have garnered enough support to make it to the house floor.
At the Gulf Council level, these same recreational entities fought hard for an amendment to the reef fish management plan that would have allowed the five Gulf States to set their own management tools in the name of flexibility. Regional management would have allowed each state to manage their private recreational anglers by means that complied with the state’s cultural fishing norms, their historic tourism seasons, and any other factors that the states would have deemed useful to their anglers. But, at the last minute, as the charter for-hire fleet asked to stay within the more stable federal management system, the recreational lobby balked and pressed the states to suspend the push for regional management because it did not provide the flexibility they desired. The groups that wanted regional management, and are pushing this agenda hard through weak legislation like Graves’s, denied the opportunity to get what they had asked for the most: state management.
The good news: all of these attempts at public water thefts have failed, and Graves’s H.R. 3094 has a mere 7% chance of enactment.
The bad news: Senator David Vitter has forced a hearing in the Senate’s Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee to discuss extending state-water jurisdiction for Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi from its historical 3-miles to nine and loosening the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s science-based rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits, in an end-around move to accomplish the recreational mission to grab our nation’s public water resources.
Ironically—comically, if it wasn’t so sad—Senator Vitter is basing his rationale for the increased state-water limits on a failed narrative that the current three-mile limit is negatively affecting small business owners across the Gulf, while at the same time the American Sportfishing Association’s Sportfishing in America contradicts this by stating that recreational fishing profits have grown consistently since 2006, with the Southeast leading the growth in sales, in recruiting new anglers to the sport, and in most sales of fishing licenses in the nation. From where I am sitting, this suggests the fishing tackle industry is healthy and on an upward trajectory.
When you deconstruct this issue, extending state-water jurisdictions will only increase the pressure on the Gulf’s small businesses, while imperiling the red snapper stock’s rebuilding plan and the short seasons we have now. With the sixty-percent increase in state waters for the three states mentioned above, we also have a substantial increase of effort and catch that will have to be accounted for somewhere. Where will that extra pressure on more state waters with long, liberal seasons come from? There is only one place: the federal-water season.
Vitter’s 6-mile extension will exacerbate the red snapper fishery’s chaos, and chaos is the antithesis of stable business models. Stability is what businesses desire, like the stable growth the fishing industry has experienced since 2006, the MSA reauthorization year that adopted science-based rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits.
If shorter federal-water seasons negatively impact the Gulf’s small businesses, as the recreational lobby’s narrative has stated but been refuted by its own economic reports, how will extending state waters now provide more business stability and better economics, when shorter federal-water seasons decrease boat and tackle sales, as their story goes?
Maybe, just maybe, the answer is obvious: it’s simply a continuation of the state land grab of federal public resources that have appeared to become the current norm, which most other sportsmen have rightly and thoughtfully railed against. Let’s politely ask the Gulf fringe to peacefully deescalate and play fair for all 300-million Americans, the Gulf commercial fleet, the charter for-hire fleet, and tourists, not just Gulf of Mexico private recreational fishermen.