As recreational anglers, we find ourselves at the precipice of a breakthrough in state management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to work done by the Gulf states, the federal government and through the Gulf Council, we now have an opportunity to give public testimony on a plan that would allow the states to assume greater control of the private recreational red snapper fishery. Amendment 50, as it is called, would allow the five Gulf States to manage fishing for red snapper by anglers in their respective states while maintaining a positive state/federal partnership. Under Amendment 50 states like Louisiana would have their own allocation of red snapper and would be able to determine when to open and close the red snapper season based on state-based harvest data that is collected from recreational anglers during the season.
If this sounds familiar, it is because this year, we got to test the idea of state management by using a tool called an exempted fishing permit (EFP). The EFPs – one for each state – have allowed us to test the data and management systems of the states, to make sure we are fishing sustainably. Under the EFP, LDWF used LA Creel as well as a smart phone app to determine when to close the snapper season as we approached our quota. Amendment 50 is the first permanent opportunity for recreational anglers to get the flexibility and access to red snapper in federal waters they have been searching for over the last several years.
Amendment 50 would not be possible without the overarching law of federal fisheries management called the Magnuson-Stevens Act or MSA. The MSA, through science-based management, has rebuilt the red snapper fishery along with many other fisheries from almost depleted stocks. MSA has proven to be flexible throughout this process and has allowed the Gulf Council to explore these exciting new management plans without the need to change or dismantle the law. There are a few things I want everyone to keep in mind as public hearings approach for Amendment 50.
Amendment 50 only works if every Gulf state provides harvest data that works with the federal data collection system. When using statistics to make science-based management decisions about our fishery, it is critical that the statistical data that comes in from the states is compatible with the federal system. Data collection is another great example why the states need to continue to work hand in hand with the fisheries biologists on the federal level. If every state were to collect data differently and there wasn’t a standard that had to be met, there could be uncertainty in the harvest numbers used to make decisions. Uncertainty is one of the reasons we saw federal red snapper seasons get shorter in years past, so we need to make sure our expanded state data programs and the long-established federal data system are working together to produce the good data we need for stock assessments and managing the fishery. A great example of a state-federal partnership is the interstate highway system. The federal government provides the funding and the states manage and enforce. Without input from both, travel across this country would be very different.
Amendment 50 is not the first time the Gulf Council has tried to pass state management on a regional level. Two and half years ago, Amendment 39 was up for a final vote and was almost identical to Amendment 50. In that final vote, some Gulf Council members voted against Amendment 39 because they believed the Amendment should include the Charter-for-hire sector along with the recreational sector. Amendment 39 failed by one vote and here we are two and half years later in the same boat. I don’t want to see our opportunity as recreational anglers, to get the state management we have been looking for, spoiled because a couple states believe their charter for hire fleet should be included. Let’s keep Amendment 50 for recreational anglers.
In the South, there is a common mistrust of the federal government. Growing up in the South, I can understand that sentiment. When it comes to fishery management the federal government provides half of the stock assessments. Fisheries biologists break these stock assessments down into two parts, fisheries dependent and fisheries independent data. States like Louisiana using LA Creel provide the fisheries dependent data needed for half the stock assessment. The federal system provides the fisheries independent data used to determine the overall health of a stock like red snapper. Louisiana and many other states don’t have the resources to take over the fisheries independent portion of an overall stock assessment. Louisiana and other states also can’t afford to enforce out to 200 nautical miles, the distance our federal waters extend out to. Amendment 50 is the state management we have been looking for, but we need to realize it only works as a partnership with the feds.
Amendment 50 is a real opportunity for recreational anglers to see more days in federal waters while providing critical harvest data that helps scientists make important decisions about the red snapper fishery. This process at the Gulf Council level proves we don’t need to change the Magnuson-Stevens Act in order to achieve state management. In fact, the MSA provides the framework we need to make this amendment work – science-based standards, accountability between fishermen and states, and the goal of long-term abundance for all of us. Amendment 50 has been created to manage the recreational sector, and we need to keep it that way. The Gulf Council is scheduled to take final action on Amendment 50 in late January, public hearings are going on throughout the region now, and a comment period is open to take feedback on the idea of state management. This means now is your opportunity to tell the Gulf Council and the federal government you want to see state management that delivers good science and good fishing because the future of our fisheries depends on it.