WASHINGTON, DC – Thursday, April 21, 2016 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS), today announced full committee passage of the Fiscal Year 2017 CJS appropriations bill, which contains several provisions affecting fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. Following today’s action by the Committee, the bill will go to the full Senate for consideration.
“The red snapper fishery is vital to fishermen and businesses across Alabama, and the federal government’s continued mismanagement of the nation’s fisheries is unacceptable,” said Senator Shelby. “That is why I included several provisions in this year’s CJS bill that I believe will help respond to the unnecessary challenges facing anyone who wants to fish for red snapper in the Gulf.”
The legislation includes the following provisions affecting Red Snapper:
- Red Snapper State Management Pilot Program: The bill requires NOAA to develop a pilot program for Gulf States to manage reef fish, including red snapper, in designated zones over artificial reefs in federal waters of the Gulf.
- Fishery Boundaries: Maintains the Fiscal Year 2016 language that extends Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana state seaward fishery boundaries from 3 miles out to 9 miles for these States to regulate red snapper and other reef fish. Previously, only Texas and Florida had boundaries out to 9 miles. This provision makes the State fishery lines across the Gulf equitable and allows States to take the lead in managing reef fish in more areas.
- Red Snapper Tagging Study and Alternative Assessments: 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 and the development of alternative approaches to counting reef fish 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 and incorporate those counts into future stock assessments and management decisions for reef fish in the Gulf.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The legislation further includes the following provisions affecting the Alabama Gulf Coast:
- Disaster Response Center (DRC): Provides $2 million and includes directive report language for NOAA to maintain operations of the DRC, which is located in Mobile.
- Vortex Southeast (Vortex-SE): Provides up to $5 million and directs NOAA to continue working with weather partners in the Southeast to conduct a Vortex-SE study focusing on the unique climate and topography of the southeast region. This direction builds on the Vortex-SE field operations taking place in summer of 2016.
- 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 based in the northern Gulf.
- Yellowfin Tuna: Includes report language directing NOAA to study the effects of offshore oil platforms on highly migratory pelagic species, including yellowfin tuna.
- Oyster Aquaculture Research and Development: Includes report language and no less than $1 million for NOAA to support off-bottom oyster aquaculture and research related to disease and reproduction that could be beneficial to supporting commercial operations and creating jobs in Gulf oyster aquaculture.
- Regional Class Research Vessels: Provides $159 million to the National Science Foundation for the design and construction of three regional class research ships. One of these ships will be dedicated to the Gulf Coast to preform scientific research in coastal waters.