Snapper plan draws ire from anglers

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Louisiana’s proposal for an experimental lottery to choose anglers for a red snapper management program was met with a non-enthusiastic response by a powerful recreational fishing organization, despite its provision of a limitless season for those who participate.

Red snapper management has been a contentious issue in the Gulf states, for whose waters NOAA regulators have set a 3-day recreational season this year. Attempts to move management of the species from NOAA to the states got a lukewarm response last year from Gov. John Bel Edwards, who declined to endorse a bill authored by U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves toward that end. Graves said in a recent interview that he plans to re-introduce the bill during the current session.

Meanwhile, administrators in Baton Rouge have been busy crafting their own plan, announced Thursday afternoon.

A total of 150 study participants, selected by random drawing, will be able to catch all the red snapper they wish, in federal or state waters, up to a 25,000-pound limit. In return, they will relay information about their catch to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The program would run for two years, its purpose, according to state officials, is a demonstration to federal regulators that a state control can work without sacrificing species management data.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the plan as a pilot that will allow participating anglers freedom to choose when they fish, and where.

“I asked Wildlife and Fisheries to develop a program that could eventually lead to Louisiana controlling red snapper fishing, even in what is determined to be federal waters,” said Edwards, who identifies himself as a consistent supporter of state-based management. “This pilot program could not come soon enough as the federal government has limited anglers to just three days to fish red snapper this year.”

David Cresson, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Conservation Association, which represents the interests of recreational fishermen throughout the state, was disappointed.

“Programs that give ownership of a public fish to private individuals should be rejected by anglers,” said CCA Louisiana Executive Director David Cresson. “No matter what the stated motivation, programs like these are what has led to catch shares in the other sectors, and the increased privatization of the red snapper fishery. Make no mistake, catch shares are designed to limit the public’s access to public fisheries in public waters.”

Cresson also expressed displeasure with his group not having input on the program, as well as other organziations concerned with recreational fishing.

CCA Louisiana has expressed to LDWF on many occasions, Cresson said, opposition to any program that gives individuals private ownership of this public resource.

“While CCA had never seen this particular EFP proposal, we participated in a meeting in early March where similar proposals were considered. At that meeting, CCA and others from the recreational community and Louisiana’s charter industry expressed clear opposition to any program that included hints of Individual Fishing Quotas,” Cresson said. “A representative from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was also invited by LDWF to that meeting, and informed attendees they would have to accept that not everyone who wants to fish should be able to fish. On the contrary, CCA believes that anyone who wants to fish should have that opportunity.”

LDWF Assistant Secretary Patrick Banks said that if the program is implemented Louisiana will still have its own season for red snapper, from the shoreline to 9-miles out. More than 260 days in length, the state season would likely be shortened if the pilot program were put into effect, but he was not sure by how much.

“One of the things we want to test is social type atmospheres and angler acceptance of a system like that,” Banks said. “But our main thrust is to test electronic reporting so we can make the tracking of the harvest as good as it possibly can. We won’t ever be granted state management authority unless we can track to the individual fish at the time it is harvested.”

Like Cresson, local recreational anglers were not sold on the program, although they said they were still examining details.

“I don’t like the idea of limiting the fishery to a small group of people,” said Jean Marmande of Thibodaux, as he readied for a weekend of fishing at his camp in Cocodrie.

Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet left no doubt of his support.

“Just like the governor, we have heard from anglers across Louisiana and it is clear what they want most is the flexibility to fish for Red Snapper when it makes sense for them and their families,” Montoucet said. “We are trying to show we can scientifically monitor the red snapper caught in the federal waters, provide anglers with more days of access to the fish and allow them to make larger catches. And most importantly, the state wants to show that we can use state-of-the-art-technology to safely control the Red Snapper population on our own.”

The pilot program – to be in operation 2018-2019 – is the linchpin of LDWF’s Exempted Fishing Permit Application for State Management Pilot Project. It has been delivered to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is expected to be deliberated by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council at its next meeting in June.

In addition to philosophical differences with state officials, Cresson has difficulty with how the plan was rolled out.

“We were caught completely off guard by the announcement,” Cresson said. “While the proposed pilot program itself is full of problems, and should be immediately withdrawn, it is the way it was developed in secret and announced by surprise that is more disappointing. CCA, the Louisiana charter industry and anglers from around Louisiana have worked in good faith to rebuild and repair our relationship with the Department. This inexplicable breach of trust, unfortunately, is an enormous step backwards.”

Red Snapper