Apr 27 2015

Gulf Seafood News: Senator Shelby Continues Fight For Gulf Fishermen on Red Snapper Issues

As the Department of Commerce continues to move forward with activities funded through the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2015, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby has written Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker expressing strong concerns with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) management of the red snapper fishery.

Shelby, who Chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce-Justice-Science, said in the letter that the science behind current NOAA practices has had a devastating impact on fishermen across the Gulf, resulting in fewer fishing opportunities for both commercial and recreational anglers year after year.

“Year after year, commercial and recreational anglers have fewer fishing opportunities due to NOAA’s misguided practices regarding red snapper,” said the Alabama senator who has been a leading voice for Gulf fishermen. “The red snapper fishery is a key economic driver and is integral to the way of life on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The federal government’s failure to properly oversee red snapper stocks has a damaging impact on fishermen and businesses alike, which is why I will continue to fight for improved management, sounder science, and more accurate data to help commercial and recreational fishermen gain increased access to the robust red snapper population on the Gulf.”

A longtime critic of NOAA’s management of the red snapper fishery, Shelby was instrumental in securing critical reforms in Congress to ensure that both commercial and recreational fishermen have increased access to the red snapper population in the Gulf.

“The federally-permitted charter captains in Alabama have been pushing for increased data collection and accountability measures for years. Senator Shelby’s success in directing NOAA to focus more readily on the collection of real-time, verifiable electronic data in the Gulf charter fleet has been met with overwhelming support among captains in Alabama,” said Gulf Seafood Institute’sAlabama board member Captain Johnny Greene of Orange Beach’s Intimidator Charters. “We are eager to see the program rolled out so we can get busy counting fish as soon as possible. With the Senator’s continued efforts, we expect this will be a reality very soon.”

The 2015 Appropriations Act passed last December included provisions authored by Shelby:

  • Funding to establish a cost-shared electronic reporting program for federally permitted charter-for-hire vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, which would allow them more days to fish for red snapper during the current year and beyond.
  • Directing NOAA to improve red snapper stock assessments in the Gulf by taking into account the population benefits for red snapper provided by artificial reefs and other offshore man-made structures such as oil wells.
  • Concluding that the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), which serves as NOAA’s data collection system and is the primary source for information used to make management decisions for recreational fishing in the Gulf, is inadequate. MRIP has not achieved its intended purpose of providing increased certainty for NOAA to carry out more equitable management of red snapper.
  • A requirement that MRIP methodologies bye reviewed by the Government Accountability Office; including the general practice and procedure of NOAA’s fisheries science centers to provide recommendations for how the agency can address the programs shortfalls.

“Since GSI’s inception, Senator Shelby has been a key leader in advocating for more federal focus on the critical issue of fisheries data collection in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly with regard to red snapper,” said GSI executive director Margaret Henderson. “Given his leadership position on the Senate Appropriations Committee and strong support from his federally-permitted charter-for-hire community in Alabama, Senator Shelby is perfectly positioned to shepherd these priorities through Congress and the federal process. His efforts to shed more light on the challenges of recreational red snapper management are greatly appreciated Gulf-wide.”

In the letter, Shelby says he shares the frustration that Gulf Coast fishermen and coastal communities feel from NOAA’s inaction. Now that the agency’s amended spending plan for 2015 has been approved, he expects the agency to act immediately to begin improving the management of the red snapper fishery. “As the Secretary of Commerce, I would appreciate you added vigilance over NOAA to ensure that these fishery reforms are implemented in a timely manner,” he penned Pritzker.

“Fewer days for red snapper fishing in the Gulf is simply unacceptable, particularly when the stocks continue to grow faster than expected,” the Alabama Senator told Gulf Seafood News. “It is imperative that NOAA be held accountable for its mismanagement of red snapper and I will continue to press the agency to implement critical reforms that will allow both commercial and recreational fishermen more days on the water.”