Gulf States Agree on Red Snapper Management Proposal

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Gulf of Mexico states want Congress to let them, not the federal government, manage one of the region's most popular gamefish. Short federal seasons for red snapper -- in spite of a rising population -- have been a subject of intense disagreement between state and federal authorities at least since early 2013.

Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida want each state to be responsible for managing red snapper in state and federal waters off its coast, according to Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. State fisheries managers would make up a supervisory agency, according to a letter signed by each state's top fisheries official and made public Friday evening.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana submitted a bill in January to give the Gulf states authority to manage red snapper once they agreed on a plan.

Federal regulators cannot yet comment because they have not yet had a chance to review the proposal, Allison Garrett, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its fisheries division, said in an email Friday night.

The Gulf Fisheries Management Council, acting on advice from NOAA Fisheries biologists, has kept recreational seasons short even though red snapper have been getting bigger and more plentiful.

Federal officials have said that the recreational quota fills fast because anglers are catching bigger fish and over a wider area of the Gulf than they used to, and each season gets truncated because anglers went over the previous year's quota.

Louisiana fisheries officials say intensive creel checks by state fisheries agents have shown that the catch rates, at least in Louisiana, are wildly overestimated.

The states' letter calls for the state fisheries' managers to approve state management plans, coordinate population assessments, provide consistent accountability measures, and distribute federal funding for research, assessment, and management.

"If this framework comes to fruition, Louisiana is very well positioned to hit the ground running due to our anglers' active participation in our recreational creel survey, LA Creel, and associated support for a saltwater license fee increase," said Randy Pausina, Louisiana's assistant secretary for fisheries.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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