With almost every issue, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress believe that the federal government should impose its will on the states. Now, it seems fishing is no exception.
Last week a group of 40 lawmakers from the Gulf Coast states – almost all of them Republicans – sent a letter to Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo to complain about a Biden administration plan to control fishing for red snapper – one of the most popular species of sport fish in Florida.
Reps. Greg Steube and Vern Buchanan, two Sarasota-area Republicans, were among those calling on Raimondo to rethink this plan.
According to the letter, the Gulf Coast states and the Obama administration negotiated a plan to allow the states greater authority to manage red-snapper fishing season and populations.
The lawmakers contend that a federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, intends to change this by ignoring a study that estimates the red snapper population is much larger than the feds believe.
Currently, each state provides estimates of how many red snapper are caught in their waters. The states tended to set those quotas near the ceilings that they believed the red snapper population could handle and still be sustainable.
Based on a 2021 study of the red snapper population, the federal government raised its limit for what was considered “overfishing.” Yet that percentage was significantly below what the states considered acceptable.
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries division noted in its proposed rule that last year’s study found the red snapper population was three times as large as reported in an earlier study from 2017.
Yet the feds asserted the latter report counted red snapper from areas that had not been previously considered part of population estimates, and which were not targeted by anglers.
In its rule proposal, the NOAA noted that the “highest Gulf-wide abundance of red snapper was in 2016 and has declined since.” Accordingly, federal authorities determined that the fishing limits “should be considerably more conservative … due to the uncertainties” in the 2021 study.
“When catch limits are exceeded in this manner,” the agency maintained, federal law requires NOAA “take action to prevent exceeding these limits in the future.”
The Gulf State lawmakers counter that bureaucrats are ignoring another provision of federal law that mandates NOAA to consider the “best available data.”
The proposed rule “indicates that they would rather rely on outdated and fundamentally flawed data than embrace the best available science.”
NOAA “has failed to find an effective solution and is not making decisions based on the best available science while refusing to appropriately integrate the new data,” the letter continued.
The lawmakers were upset that the feds are changing the rule even though they helped design and certify the state regulations they want to undo.
Consequently, states like Mississippi and Alabama, despite having programs that are fed-certified, face having to slash annual catch limits by 50 percent or more.
Florida’s limit would increase by about 6 percent, the NOAA report shows.
Yet the lawmakers argue that the $10 million 2021 study “indicates that those fish are, in fact, there to be caught” across the Gulf.
Prior to that report, the catch-ceiling was set at 97 percent of the sustainable limit, the lawmakers added. Yet despite knowing the red snapper population is triple what was previously thought, the feds would only allow fishing to 60 percent of what would be sustainable.
The lawmakers further note that red snapper “are predatory fish by nature,” and “leaving them unchecked upsets the delicate balance of our managed fisheries. By not harvesting Red Snapper at appropriate levels, the species is allowed to flourish and decimate populations of other species lower on the food chain. This is why it is vital that the best available science is used in decision-making.”
“The Red Snapper fishery is important to our culture and is a major economic driver in the Gulf. Our anglers are our best stewards, and no one wants to preserve the stock more than they do,” the lawmakers argue, noting that in 2017 anglers spent more than $13.5 billion to fish the Gulf.
“When we lose fishing time, we lose conservation dollars, and [this] proposed rule puts Gulf anglers in an unjustified time out,” the letter concluded.
We all want this state management initiative to be successful, and the Gulf States are working hard to see that it is. However, we must express our frustration when we see NMFS, not only failing to do their part, but preventing us in the Gulf from doing ours.”
In a press release, Congressman Steube said, “The Red Snapper fishery is a critical part of Florida’s economy. Secretary Raimondo and the Department of Commerce must reconsider their proposed rule because it relies on outdated and flawed data.”
“It’s incredibly concerning that NMFS is failing to do their part in managing this resource and the regulatory burdens are preventing us from doing ours,” he added. “My colleagues and I stand ready to work with the federal government so that states can best manage the Red Snapper fishery in the Gulf.”
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Rep. Buchanan stated. “Recreational fishing supports many Southwest Florida jobs and is also a popular activity that Floridians have enjoyed for generations.”
“Sustainable fishing practices, especially of Red Snapper, are essential to supporting this key Gulf Coast industry as well as the health of many different fish populations.”
The public comment period on the rule ended on July 28. The rule is expected to take effect on Jan. 1.