The recreational fishing and boating community applauded the introduction of the RED SNAPPER Act, a bill to improve the way the recreational red snapper fishery is managed in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill was introduced with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. Original cosponsors include Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and John Kennedy (R-La.); and Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.); Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.); Randy K. Weber, Sr. (R-Texas); Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.); Blake Farenthold (R-Texas); Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.); Clay Higgins (R-La.); Steven M. Palazzo (R-Miss.); Austin Scott (R-Ga.); and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.).
The red snapper is one of the most sought-after fish in the Gulf of Mexico and the “poster fish” for the challenges anglers experience with the federal fisheries management system. 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. State managers are better equipped to manage recreational fishing and have a proven track record of finding a balance between conservation of marine resources and reasonable public access.
The bill also contains a number of conservation measures that will ensure red snapper remain one of the healthiest fish stocks 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,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “Where the federal government has failed in providing access, state governments have excelled. 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 RED SNAPPER Act 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 would also 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,” said Thom Dammrich, president of National Marine Manufacturers Association. “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.”
For the past 10 years, the federal recreational fishing season for Gulf red snapper has been in a downward spiral. 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,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “This legislation initiates the process of moving the fishery away from a broken federal management system. We commend Rep. Graves and Sen. Cassidy for keeping the focus on fixing the red snapper problem and look forward to working with them to ensure the states are allowed to do what they do best – manage for the health of the resource and maximize the public’s access to it.”
“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,” said Chris Horton, Fisheries Program Director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “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,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. “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.”