Spending bill includes red snapper reforms

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The American Sportfishing Association and the Center for Coastal Conservation lauded Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., for sponsoring a series of provisions in the federal year-end omnibus spending bill that would change red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shelby’s provisions would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fund agency-independent stock assessments for Gulf reef fish, including red snapper, according to the conservation center.

Unlike previous population counts, Shelby’s amendment directs that this one include artificial reefs and offshore energy infrastructure, which the fish tends to inhabit. Inclusion of those structures will likely produce more accurate and robust population counts, said CCC president Jeff Angers in a statement.

“The sportfishing industry, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico region, is grateful to Sen. Shelby for his leadership in addressing several key flaws in current Gulf red snapper management,” said ASA government affairs vice president Scott Gudes in a statement. “The senator clearly understands the issues we are dealing with that are limiting anglers’ ability to get out on the water and fish, which has a direct negative impact on recreational fishing-dependent businesses.”

“Fishermen and businesses across the Gulf of Mexico depend on a robust red snapper fishery, and the federal government’s mismanagement is standing in the way,” Shelby said. “That is why I included funding and reforms in this year’s omnibus appropriations bill to tackle these challenges head-on. I believe that my provisions will provide much-needed relief to anglers across the Gulf, and I will continue to fight for common-sense proposals that will allow for a longer, more robust red snapper season.”

Specifically, the appropriations bill includes language that:

ŸProvides $5 million for independent stock assessments for Gulf of Mexico reef fish, including red snapper

ŸDirects NOAA Fisheries to count fish on artificial reefs and offshore energy infrastructure and incorporate those counts into future stock assessments and management decisions

ŸUrges NOAA and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to provide an increased allocation of Gulf red snapper to private-sector recreational anglers, should the allowable catch of red snapper increase. This would help address the historically inequitable allocation of this fishery, which has limited recreational fishing opportunities and associated economic effects

ŸProvides as much as $5 million for the NOAA National Sea Grant Program to support a red snapper reward tagging study in the Gulf of Mexico

ŸIncreases the role of state fisheries managers in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana by expanding state waters from three to nine miles.

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