Environmentalists Blast Feds Plan to Extend Red Snapper Season

WASHINGTON (CN) – Two environmental groups are suing the Trump administration for extending the red snapper season for private fishers in the Gulf of Mexico, which they said could prolong efforts to repopulate the species.

The July 17 lawsuit targets the National Marine Fisheries Service, which it says violated several federal laws by disregarding the annual fish catch limit when it prolonged the season through labor day weekend, extending it by 39 days.

According to the complaint, recreational fishers could exceed their catch limit by as much as 354 percent.

Ocean Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund brought the complaint, which also names commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as defendants.

According to the groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service recognized that overfishing would occur as a result of the temporary rule, and acknowledged it would impede rebuilding efforts, but decided the economic benefit would outweigh the harm.

“Further, the Fisheries Service failed to conduct any environmental analysis of this consequential action, or allow for public notice and comment, even though the rule upends established management requirements for the fishery,” the 37-page complaint states.

The groups say the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Magnuson Stevens Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Federal regulation of red snapper began in 1984 after a sharp decline in the species, which started in the 1960s and continued through the late 1980s, but the lawsuit accuses the government of chronic mismanagement of the red snapper fish population in the Gulf of Mexico.

As of 2005, stock assessments had determined the species remained overfished, but federal managers failed to heed the advice of their scientists and set appropriate catch levels  for commercial and recreational fishing, the complaint says.

Even though the commercial sector has adhered to its annual catch limit since quotas were introduced in 2007, the recreational sector routinely flouts its limit, according to the lawsuit.

“The recreational sector exceeded its limit every year between 2007 and 2013 but one, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster shut down large portions of the Gulf of Mexico to recreational fishing,” the complaint states. “In 17 of the last 22 years, the recreational sector has exceeded its catch limits.”

Chris Dorsett, the vice president of conservation policy and programs for Ocean Conservancy said in a statement that the resurgence in red snapper from decades of overfishing required tough decisions and hard work.

“We’ve made great progress but we’re only about halfway through the rebuilding plan. You don’t stop taking antibiotics halfway through a prescription. You’ll just run the risk of getting sick again,” Dorsett said. “Ocean Conservancy made the very difficult decision to sue because ultimately, this is not just about rebuilding red snapper. It’s about protecting America’s fisheries, which are the backbone of so many coastal communities and the heart of deep cultural traditions rooted in a love for fishing and our ocean,” he added.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did not respond to an email seeking comment. The Department of Commerce said in an email that it is reviewing the filing.

Ocean Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, and are asking the court to vacate the rule.


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