WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS), today announced the filing of the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill, which contains several provisions affecting fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The continued decline in the Gulf’s federal red snapper season is unacceptable, and NOAA’s misguided regulations have hit the private recreational anglers particularly hard,” said Senator Shelby. “This bill includes a number of provisions – including a state-led fisheries pilot program – that allow fishermen greater access to this abundant resource in the Gulf.”
The legislation includes the following provisions affecting Red Snapper:
- Nine-Mile Boundary for Red Snapper: Permanently extends the state seaward-boundaries of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana from 3 miles out to 9 miles for the management of red snapper and other reef fish. Prior to Senator Shelby’s appropriations language in Fiscal Year 2016, only Texas and Florida had seaward-boundaries out to 9 miles. The Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill makes the extension permanent, ensuring state fishery boundaries across the Gulf are equitable, and allowing states to lead reef fish management in more areas.
- Red Snapper State Management Pilot Program: Directs NOAA to develop a pilot-program that places states in the lead for fisheries management over designated reef zones in the Gulf of Mexico. This pilot-program will provide an opportunity for Gulf States to demonstrate their ability to responsibly manage fishery resources, and should offer some relief for anglers impacted by the decreasing federal seasons.
- Red Snapper Stock Assessment: Provides up to $10 million for independent, non-NOAA stock assessments for Gulf reef fish including red snapper. Directs NOAA to count fish on artificial reefs, on offshore energy exploration infrastructure, and to 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, if the total allowable catch of red snapper increases above a certain threshold. This would help provide relief for recreational anglers that have been especially impacted by NOAA’s misguided regulations.
- Gulf of Mexico Baseline Monitoring: Directs NOAA to utilize 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 directs NOAA to maintain operations at the DRC in Mobile, which serves as the Gulf Coast hub for NOAA’s emergency preparedness, response, and recovery operations.
- 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 environment and topography of the southeast region. This direction builds on the Vortex-SE field operations that took place in the 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: Provides 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 the Gulf oyster aquaculture industry.
- Regional Class Research Vessels: Provides $122 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.