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States Sue Feds Over Red Snapper Season

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - Texas and Louisiana sued Uncle Sam to try to block a rule that would shorten the red snapper fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico.

The states "seek review of an unlawfully promulgated 'emergency' rule entitled Recreational Closure Authority Specific to Federal Waters Off Individual States for the Recreational Red Snapper Component of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery," according to their federal complaint.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved the emergency rule on Feb. 8.

Established by the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils charged with managing resources in U.S. coastal waters.

"The Emergency Rule purports to give respondent the [defendant] National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) the power to unilaterally - without notice, public comment, or hearing - shorten, or even do away with, the 2013 recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico," the state attorneys general say in the complaint.

Prized as tasty, red snappers can live for more than 50 years, and weigh 50 pounds. Snapper season in federal waters in the Gulf was 46 days in 2012, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Texas and Louisiana claim defendant Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank pushed the emergency rule through the council in February.

But the council switched course last week.

"On Thursday, April 18, 2013, at the Council's most recent meeting, a majority voted in favor of rescinding the Emergency Rule, but, to date, respondents have given no indication that they will," the complaint states.

Unsure if the NMFS will act on the council's latest motion before the June 1 start of the red snapper fishing season, Texas and Louisiana say the lawsuit is needed to get the emergency rule reviewed quickly.

The states claim the emergency rule is not based on sound science, but is simply meant to bring the states in line with federal rules.

"This action was undertaken, not for scientific reasons ... but solely because Louisiana and Florida were each considering joining Texas in setting a state recreational red snapper fishing season that was not identical to the season NMFS established for federal waters," the complaint states.

"The Magnuson-Stevens Act, however, is quite clear that the states have a nearly absolute right to regulate fishing within their own waters.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement: "Before the enactment of the so-called 'emergency' rule, Texas' 2013 federal recreational red snapper fishing season was estimated to be between 27 and 22 days, but the emergency rule would reduce it to only 12 days, or even zero days.

"The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - the state agency with primary responsibility for protecting Texas' fish and wildlife resources - predicts that the economic impact of this proposed emergency federal rule could amount to a loss of as much as $1 million per day for each day that the federal red snapper fishing season is shortened."

The emergency rule authorizes the NMFS "to set the closure date of the recreational red snapper fishing season in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off individual Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) states," according to the Federal Register .

The U.S. government's exclusive economic zone for resource management extends from 3 to 200 miles offshore, according to the defendant National Ocean and Atmospheric Association.

States' jurisdictions extend from their coast to where federal jurisdiction begins, 3 three miles offshore, except for Texas and Florida, which claim jurisdiction for 9 miles offshore.

Defendants include top officials in the National Marine Fisheries Service, its Office of Sustainable Fisheries, and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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