Message to Congress: Let States Manage Red Snapper

The issue gets its first high-level federal hearing in Congress, and proponents welcome the groundwork.

David Cresson

David Cresson

David Cresson, executive director of CCA Louisiana, testifies before the subcommittee. "Anglers increasingly see [regulations] as punitive rather than constructive," he said.Courtesy CCA

When politicians get on their high horses with longwinded, anti-government rants, I usually start yawning. But the ire shown in D.C. yesterday at a federal hearing on Gulf Coast red snapper management is a horse of a different color.

The hearing — by the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs — is a result, and for this year a culmination, of the ongoing and growing clamor to end the madness, as many see it. I refer to the insanity of nine-day federal seasons for one of the most abundant and economically important fishes of the entire Gulf coast.

It focuses on H.R. 3099, the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act of 2013, legislation introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla) that would transfer primary management responsibility from the feds (notably the Gulf Fishery Management Council) to the coastal states, something that many interests in recreational fisheries conservation and industries say should have happened long ago.

The precedents show that states generally have a solid track record in managing their marine fish resources, including for species that cross many state lines (such as striped bass). It’s certainly hard to believe that states couldn’t do a better job of management than what we have now from the feds, since what we have in the Gulf is now is, by any measure, a mess. (Caveat — I give NOAA credit where due: Red snapper populations 20 or so years ago were indeed in trouble. Effective management of snapper harvest and of shrimp bycatch helped toward restoration of the stocks.)

Given that the current congress is just about finished, Miller will of course need to call for hearings next year in the new, 114th Congress. But yesterday’s hearing was crucial, the Coastal Conservation Center’s Jeff Angers told me, because “it started the conversation [on removing red snapper from federal management] at the highest levels of government.” Rather than this being a wholly new idea in 2015, the basis for this major change in how Gulf fisheries are managed and its broad support have been established.

The CCA has been very active in this issue and at yesterday's hearing. You can read CCA Louisiana's take on the hearing here. You can also listen to the (often contentious) hearing and Miller's eloquent justification of the need for this legislation here.