Fishing Limits for Red Snapper Challenged

          
NEW ORLEANS (CN) – New regulations will reduce the recreational fishing limits on red snapper by over two million pounds and likely shorten the fishing season to one day, an advocacy group claims in a lawsuit.
     A new rule will reduce the maximum quantity of red snapper individual recreational fishermen can catch from up to 100 percent of the quota for the recreational sector to 57 percent of the recreational quota, according to the Coastal Conservation Association, a nonprofit national association.
     The National Marine Fisheries Service on April 22 accepted a new rule that would allocate 49 percent of the allowable catch of red snapper to the recreational sector. Of that rule, 42.2 percent of the catch would be allocated to charter boats and 57.7 percent would go to private anglers.
     This allotment would reduce the potential red snapper catch for non-charter private anglers by as much as two million pounds per year, the Coastal Conservation Association says, and could reduce red snapper season to a single day.
     By authorizing the setting of two quotas the state keeps the National Marine Fisheries Service from setting any greater number of quotas, the lawsuit says.
     “Neither proposed Amendment 40 submitted by the Gulf Council to NMFS nor the proposed rule implementing Amendment 40 submitted by the Gulf Council to NMFS contain any decisions as to the allocation of the recreational fishing quota between charter boat fishing and private angling,” the lawsuit says.
     Instead, the NMFS selected an allocation from alternatives analyzed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. That allocation was never analyzed before it was made into Amendment 40 which governs the annual take of red snapper, the complaint says.
     “Amendment 40 and the 2015-17 Rule constitute agency action that is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with the law and in excess of statutory jurisdiction,” according to the complaint.
     By data provided on the National Marine Fisheries Service website, red snapper populations reached their lowest levels in the 1990s. The goal is to rebuild the population to a 26 percent spawning potential by 2030.
     “Spawning potential” refers to the number of eggs a fish produces over its lifetime in a fished population compared to the number of eggs produced by a fish in an un-fished population.
     In the 1990s, Gulf of Mexico red snapper populations had just a 2.6 percent spawning potential; currently the population is up to 13 percent.
     “Although red snapper are recovering quickly in the Gulf of Mexico, the recreational fishing season keeps getting shorter and the2013 federal season is the shortest on record,” according to the National Marine Fisheries.
     “Amendment 40 embodies everything that is wrong with federal management of our marine resources,” Bill Bird, Chairman of Coastal Conservation Association’s National Government Committee said in a statement. “It is completely out of step with the nation’s heritage of wildlife resource management. It has been overwhelmingly opposed at every step in the process, but a very small minority has been allowed to manipulate the system to their personal advantage.”
     The Coastal Conservation Association, through its members Charles A. Caplinger IV, Adam Guillory and George A. Huye seek a declaration that Amendment 40 is in violation of federal regulation.
     Named defendants are Penny S. Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce, Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service.
     The lawsuit was filed by A. Kirk Gasperecz of Adams and Reese in New Orleans. A spokesperson for defendant NMFS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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