Photo: Lucas Bissett
As divisive as the topic of red snapper management is, it’s no surprise that popular opinion paints this as an all or nothing argument. On one side, you have federal oversight and keeping the status quo and on the other you have state management with no federal oversight. I say, why not take the best parts of both and make a better system?
Recently, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries demonstrated that a solution could re-sult from collaboration. Over the last four years LDWF has worked on a system that, like the Marine Recreational Information Program (the federal fisheries data collection system – MRIP for short), uses phone and email surveys along with dockside interviews to determine fishing effort and catch rates of Louisiana recre-ational anglers. This system is called LA Creel, and thanks to prolific angler participa-tion, it has become the gold standard in effort and catch data collection. Once implemented, LDWF went to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and asked for LA Creel to be certified by MRIP. With this certification, Louisiana will provide the fisheries-dependent data used to help determine the number of days of the federal sea-son. Louisiana’s recent exempted fishing permit (EFP) application, which will put La Creel to the test in 2018 and 2019, has the oppor-tunity to test a collaborative system of state management with federal oversight.
Some argue that Louisiana (and the Gulf states) can manage its red snapper fishery better than the federal government. The problem with that logic is that without MRIP and NMFS, there is no way for LA Creel (and other state systems like it) to provide all the data needed. According to Assistant Secretary Patrick Banks of LDWF, LA Creel only collects a portion of the data needed to make manage-ment decisions about snapper, and without federal funding they wouldn’t be able to implement the parts they would be lacking. Instead of tasking the states with the burden of trying to replicate what MRIP and NMFS already do, why not just let the two systems work together? It seems there is a solution here that should satisfy both sides of this argument. The states provide better data in their state waters and in return have more latitude to set seasons and bag limits that work for their own unique fishery needs, and the federal government provides the fisheries-independent data used to complete the overall snapshot of stock health and abundance.
State management advocates point to federal oversight becoming a problem when federal seasons on red snapper started getting shorter some years ago. Those seeking state management of the red snap-per fishery, including some Gulf coast politicians and angler advocacy groups, have been using catch phrases like “bad science” in order to deflect from the real problem. It’s their assertion that we need better data collection in order to better manage the snapper fishery. As the number of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico started to increase, so did the number of anglers. With increasing fishing pressure and the average size of red snapper in-creasing, it doesn’t take as long to reach the federally set quota. Those variables, coupled with the five Gulf states implementing their own state seasons, means the quota is being reached in record time, making the federal days on the water shorter than ever. Blaming NMFS and the federal gov-ernment for variables out of their control seems pretty short-sighted and inaccurate.
So, what does a hybrid state and federal system look like? The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) is the federal overarching management system put in place to protect and rebuild federal fisheries. Under this act, over 40 species have been rebuilt or restored since the 1990’s, including red snapper. Building on the successes seen under MSA while providing better fisheries dependent data collection from the Gulf states should usher in a new era of fisheries management that plays on the strengths of both the states and the feds.
As long as state management plans include protections of MSA we could all win. Louisiana, under its current administration, appears willing to keep the natural checks and balances with the federal gov-ernment to make sure our fisheries survive long past this generation. Once again Louisiana has prov-en why we are called the sportsman’s paradise by being a leader in solutions-based resource man-agement. This EFP, if approved by NOAA, could be a temporary test to a permanent solution. Hope-fully, the other Gulf states will follow our lead.