The recreational fishing and boating community applauded the introduction of the Red Snapper Act, a bill that would change the management of the recreational red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
The bill, which gained bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, was co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Bill Cassidy. R-La., and John Kennedy, R-La.
It also was co-sponsored by Reps. Garret Graves, R-La.; Cedric Richmond, D-La.; Randy Weber Sr., R-Texas; Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.; Blake Farenthold, R-Texas; Lacy Clay, D-Mo.; Clay Higgins, R-La.; Steven Palazzo. R-Miss.; Austin Scott, R-Ga.; and Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., in the House of Representatives.
The Red Snapper Act builds upon recent efforts to increase the role of the states by greatly extending offshore state boundaries for the purpose of private recreational red snapper management.
The bill also contains a number of conservation measures that will seek to make red snapper a healthy fish stock in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Center for Sportfishing Policy supports the Red Snapper Act because it better allows Americans access to America’s public fishery resources,” Center for Sportfishing Policy president Jeff Angers said in a statement.
“Where the federal government has failed in providing access, state governments have excelled,” Angers added. “The Gulf states are among the nation’s leaders in marine fisheries management, have better scientific data and are more in touch with recreational anglers and the businesses we support.”
The measure would allow the five Gulf states to manage private recreational fishing seasons for red snapper within their existing nine-mile state territory, as well as out to 25 miles or 25 fathoms, whichever is farther from shore.
Fishing days beyond nine miles would have to be managed in accordance with the national standards and a Gulf-wide catch limit.
The bill also would give more weight to state harvest data to help provide more timely information about catch rates and effort, as well as require the inclusion of non-federal data in determining the acceptable biological catch of red snapper.
Commercial and charter fishing would remain under the federal system, with regulations developed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
“The Red Snapper Act balances access with sustainability to ensure the stock remains healthy,” National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich said. “For years, the recreational saltwater fishing community has been asking for a management approach designed to manage recreational fishing and not just commercial fishing. This is a great first step in achieving that goal. Most importantly, it ensures conservation of the fishery, something anglers have always championed.”
Under the jurisdiction of the Gulf Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, what was once a six-month red snapper season with a four-fish bag limit for recreational anglers was reduced to a historically low three-day season with a two-fish bag limit in 2017 before the Department of Commerce and the Gulf States negotiated an exchange of state-water fishing seasons for 39 days of additional federal water access this summer.
“This is an extremely complex and highly politicized fishery that has been manipulated by the federal management system into an unworkable condition for recreational anglers. We believe the only real solution is to give the states full management authority,” Coastal Conservation Association president Patrick Murray said. “This legislation initiates the process of moving the fishery away from a broken federal management system.”
“We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Senator Cassidy, Congressman Graves and each of the bills' co-sponsors to find a resolution to the Gulf red snapper management debacle,” Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation fisheries program director Chris Horton said. “We look forward to the opportunity to ensure this legislation provides a solid foundation for a long-term solution as it moves through the legislative process.”
“The Red Snapper Act provides a balanced, conservation-minded approach to allowing the Gulf states greater control of the recreational red snapper fishery,” American Sportfishing Association president and CEO Mike Nussman said. “Recreational fishing is a tremendous economic driver, and by allowing the states to properly manage this fishery in a way that provides more reasonable public access, this bill will provide a tremendous boost to the region’s economy.”