BALTIMORE (CN) — Worried about regulatory changes that will exacerbate overfishing of red snapper, conservationists claim in a federal complaint that the Trump administration is stonewalling their records request.
Represented by Earthjustice, the nonprofit group Ocean Conservancy says it invoked the Freedom of Information Act on June 19, 2017 — the same day that the red snapper fishing season was expanded for private anglers in the Gulf of Mexico to 42 days, up from just three.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “admitted that the action would cause the private recreational fishing sector to substantially exceed the annual catch limit set for that sector and delay rebuilding for the overfished population of red snapper, in violation of a number of statutes,” the complaint states.
Ocean Conservancy says it wants access to the agencies’ records about the rule change so that it can understand why the rule was adopted and inform the public.
“The government has an obligation to the citizens of this country to manage our shared public resources in a transparent way, and it is unacceptable for them to withhold that information from us,” Meredith Moore, director of fish conservation at Ocean Conservancy, said in a statement on the group’s website. “By all indications, the red snapper decision was a politically motivated action that ignored science, contrary to the law. Their decision will cause long-term damage to the fishermen and communities that depend on this economically and ecologically important fishery.
Neither the NOAA nor NMFS has responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
“Recreational fishermen of the Gulf of Mexico deserve a real solution to the problem of shortening seasons for red snapper, not a quick-fix shrouded in secrecy,” Moore said. “We expect this lawsuit will shed light on the information and factors, or lack thereof, upon which the agency based its decision.”
Earthjustice associate attorney Chris Eaton noted that seven months have passed since the NOAA acknowledged receipt of Ocean Conservancy’s FOIA request in June.
“The agency’s stonewalling is discouraging and concerning,” Eaton said.
Gulf of Mexico red snapper is just under halfway through a 27-year rebuilding plan, after overfishing drove it to just 3 percent of its historic levels.
When the Department of Commerce added 39 additional fishing days to the angling season for Gulf of Mexico red snapper, the agency acknowledged that fishing at these levels for just one year could extend the rebuilding period for this vulnerable stock by as much as six years.
Earthjustice called it “critical for Gulf fishermen and Gulf communities that we meet the deadline of having a healthy stock by 2032.”
“This administration has not been particularly transparent when it comes to taking actions that disregard basic science, like reopening the red snapper season,” Eaton said. “It is unfortunate that the public is forced to resort to the courts to obtain basic information on NOAA’s decision-making process.”