WASHINGTON, DC – Wednesday, December 16, 2015 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS), announced the inclusion of several critical provisions affecting red snapper fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico in the Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill. As Chairman of the Subcommittee, Senator Shelby authored the provisions described below, which are expected to be signed into law.
“The red snapper fishery is vital to fishermen and businesses across Alabama, and the federal government’s continued mismanagement of the fishery must be addressed,” said Senator Shelby. “That is why I fought tirelessly for several provisions to be included in the omnibus appropriations bill that I believe will help respond to the serious challenges facing anyone who wants to fish for red snapper in the Gulf.”
“My language specifically targets the issue of counting fish where fish live – on and around reefs. NOAA’s assessments have failed to include fish on reefs in the Gulf, which is why this bill provides funding for external researchers to assess these fish and for NOAA to incorporate the data in its management decisions,” added Shelby. “In addition, this bill extends Alabama’s state seaward fishery boundaries for red snapper and other reef fish from three miles to nine miles. This year’s red snapper season was unacceptably short, and I’m hopeful that these provisions will allow for a longer, more robust season for all anglers in the future.”
Senator Shelby’s provisions affecting Red Snapper:
- Fishery Boundaries: Includes bill language that extends Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana state seaward fishery boundaries from three miles out to nine miles for these states to regulate red snapper and other reef fish. Currently, just Texas and Florida have boundaries out to nine miles, and this provision makes the state fishery lines in the Gulf
- Red Snapper Tagging Study: Provides up to $5 million for NOAA’s National Sea Grant College program to support external research and development through its network of academic institutions for a red snapper tagging study in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Red Snapper Stock Assessment: Provides $5 million for independent, non-NOAA stock assessments for Gulf reef fish including red snapper. Directs NOAA to count fish on artificial reefs and offshore energy exploration infrastructure, incorporate those counts into future stock assessments and management decisions for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Red Snapper Allowable Catch: Urges NOAA to provide an increased allocation of Gulf red snapper to private recreational anglers should the total allowable catch of red snapper increase above a certain threshold. This would help provide relief for recreational anglers that have been especially impacted by NOAA’s misguided regulations.
- Red Snapper and the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP): Provides no funding for the full transition to the new MRIP implementation plan until NOAA fixes the stock assessment process as directed under the bill’s red snapper section. MRIP is a controversial program for estimating recreational fishery catches.
Senator Shelby’s provisions further affecting the Alabama Gulf Coast:
- National Water Center: Provides $14.5 million, which is $5 million above the request, and mandates NOAA to accelerate staffing at the center to achieve full operating capability.
- Disaster Response Center (DRC): Provides $2 million and includes directive language for NOAA to maintain operations of the DRC, which is located in Mobile.
- Vortex Southeast (Vortex-SE): Provides up to $5 million and includes report language for NOAA to continue working with weather partners in the Southeast (including University of Alabama in Huntsville) to conduct a Vortex-SE study focusing on the unique climate and topography of the southeast region. This direction supports follow-on work initiated in FY2015.
- Cooperative Institute, Aquatic Animal Health: Includes report language encouraging NOAA to develop a cooperative institute with other relevant federal agencies and Sea Grant universities to pursue research in aquatic animal health.
- Yellowfin Tuna: Includes report language directing NOAA to study the effects of offshore oil platforms on highly migratory pelagic species, including yellowfin tuna.
- Aquaculture Research and Development: Includes $15 million for aquaculture research, development, and support activities, including up to $1 million for NOAA to support off-bottom oyster aquaculture and research related to disease and reproduction that could be beneficial to commercial operations.
- Baseline Monitoring Gulf of Mexico: Includes report language directing NOAA to leverage existing resources to better understand the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including through a sentinel species program.
- New Vessel Construction for NOAA: Provides $80 million for NOAA to move ahead with constructing a new ocean-going vessel to begin replacing its aging fleet. NOAA’s oldest vessel operates in the Gulf, and the bill ensures the contract is open competition so Gulf Coast shipyards can compete.