Commercial, recreational and for hire fishermen say a bill in Congress that would allow Gulf states to regulate fishing in federal waters is not good for the fish.
Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves is the primary sponsor of H.R. 3094, which is a bill that would strip the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of its authority to manage red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and would turn that authority over to the five Gulf States.
One would think that red snapper fishing law in the Gulf would not concern recreational, for-hire and commercial fishermen in New England, but it does. Here’s what fishing industry leaders had to say.
Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the RIPCBA
Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party & Charter Boat Association (RIPCBA) and owner/operator of Priority Too Charters, said, “Why change something that is working? Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which gives the National Marine Fisheries Series (NMFS) the authority to manage fish outside the three-mile limit, fish stocks in this country have been rebuilt. The evidence is clear a strong MSA has worked to rebuild many of the species we fish commercially and recreationally. So why change it?”
Capt. Bellavance, who had a RI proxy seat on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and now sits on the New England Fishery Management Council said, “I have sat in both seats on state controlled commissions and federal councils and I can see the difference between their management style and policy making. State managed fisheries are more political and subject to policy deal making. With fisheries managed by NMFS, things are more transparent and not as political; everyone respects and utilizes the science to manage and grow the fish.”
“So I question the ability of the Gulf States to be impartial and manage the fish in a non-bias way without politics taking over. I just do not think the states have the ability to manage the fishery effectively. Besides these states already have representation on their regional council, advisory panels and commissions. The effort would be duplicative, and very likely all the same people sitting on the new regulatory body already have seats at the table on existing regulatory bodies.”
Steve Medeiros, president of the RISAA
“The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) is a good law. I wouldn’t change anything. I believe in the process we have now. Handing the management of red snapper in federal waters to the Gulf States would be a mistake,” said Steve Medeiros, president of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA). RISAA represents 7,500 affiliated members in about 30 different fishing clubs and organizations in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Medeiros said, “Magnuson-Stevens has rebuilt many of the stocks we fish recreationally here in New England, such as black sea bass, scup, summer flounder and striped bass. So it doesn’t make sense to weaken the MSA with legislation such as the bill (H.R. 3094) sponsored by Congressmen Garrett Graves. Putting red snapper management in the hands of the Gulf States would set a bad precedent if it passes.” The MSA has rebuilt over 33 fish stocks since the year 2000.
“If H.R. 3094 passes, what’s to stop other states from wanting to manage fisheries off their shores? The self-interests of the state takes over with little regard for the fish. Like in January this year when New York made a play to regulate striped bass fishing beyond its three-mile limit.” H.R. 3070 sponsored by Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY) would have expanded New York State waters so states could regulate striped bass fishing between Block Island, RI and Montauk, NY and all waters north to the three-mile limit.
“The bill represented the interests of New York fishermen that wanted to fish in fertile federal waters. However it fell short of taking care of the fish as no research had been done to measure the impact of such a move on striped bass. So even though we are far removed from the Gulf and red snapper fishing, I am against it here in the Northeast because it would set a bad management precedent that other states may try to follow,” said Medeiros.
Chris Brown, president of the Commercial Fisheries Center and Seafood Harvesters
Chris Brown is a commercial fisherman who manages 200 days of fishing on his vessel Proud Mary in spite of his active role advocating for sustainable fishing in Rhode Island and the nation. He is president of the Commercial Fisheries Center in Rhode Island, which is comprised of fourteen commercial fishing associations. He is also president of the Seafood Harvesters of America, representing commercial fishermen from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico and north to New England. Earlier this month, Chris was invited to the White House to be recognized for his work in sustainable fisheries and to receive a “Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood” award.
“Through my work as president with Seafood Harvesters of America, I am very familiar and engaged in the red snapper issue in the Gulf. I don’t think the states (in the Gulf) have the ability to enforce fishing laws in a meaningful way… never mind managing a fishery in federal waters. Fishermen in the Gulf tell me that enforcement of existing laws by state authorities is terrible, and recent sting operations prove it… a lot of fishermen have been breaking the law for a long time. The states just do not have the horsepower to enforce the law, and this is what concerns me about giving them more regulatory authority,” said Brown.
“I think the MSA has been good for the fish… red snapper are getting larger and are more plentiful. What about doubling down with the MSA and let the National Marine Fisheries Service do its thing to continue to rebuild this stock? If red snapper management is put in the hands of the states it would be the wrong move. No question the recreational community needs to work on fishing days. Limited fishing days creates derby fishing in the commercial sector and it creates derby fishing in the recreational sector too. It just does not work. So no doubt a solution is needed, but giving control of the fish to the states is the wrong move,” said Brown.