Like many of you, I was born and raised in Louisiana. And when you grow up in such a beautiful state, you develop an innate appreciation for Louisiana’s abundant natural resources. That appreciation takes many forms — from a love of fishing to a sense of obligation to conserve our state’s resources. We all share a responsibility to conserve these resources but also to protect our public access to them. And when it comes to fishing in the Gulf, there needs to be a mutual respect between the recreational anglers and commercial fishermen.
Gulf fishermen are an economic powerhouse for both Louisiana and the entire Gulf region, which makes protecting the public’s access to these resources even more important. The group responsible for overseeing our fisheries and protecting this access is the Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Council.
But this group, supposedly dedicated to fairly managing our fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, continues to chip away at the rights of recreational anglers — particularly with access to the red snapper fishery. The RFMC is in place to protect the interests of the public, but some members of the Council continue to attack the recreational sector and end up doing the exact opposite. In fact, I have serious concerns that certain members are working to protect just a handful of fishermen. It seems like they’re giving permanent access to public resources to a select few at the expense of the vast majority of fishermen.
Right now there are over 4 million recreational anglers, including charter boats, all the way from Florida to Texas, and nearly 400 commercial red snapper fishermen. However, the Gulf Council weighs the priorities of the few over the public. This was clearly seen in a recent decision to shorten the 2014 recreational season — from 40 days to 11 days. Then in May, the season was further reduced to only nine days. That shortens the red snapper season in federal waters by over a month. Now, I certainly understand the need to find a balance in allotment for recreational and commercial, but this recent decision was unnecessarily extreme.
The current allocation for the red snapper fishery — which hasn’t been updated in over 24 years — is set at 51 percent commercial and 49 percent recreational. These percentages are based on data from 30 years ago when the stock was at an historic low. Since then the stock has greatly increased, yet the allocation levels have stayed the same.
For the livelihoods of Gulf Coast anglers and businesses that rely on the red snapper fishery, updating the outdated recreational allocation quotas is an urgent issue. That’s why I have put my full support behind a solution — the so called “Amendment 28” and preferred “option 5.” Both are currently awaiting approval by the council.
Adopting these provisions would maintain the current allocations if the red snapper quota is less than or equal to 9.12 million pounds. However, if the quota exceeds the 9.12 million pound mark, allocation levels would change with 75 percent of the excess amount to the recreational sector and 25 percent to the commercial sector. Further, Amendment 28 now includes measures to ensure accountability within the recreational sector, an inclusion that the commercial sector has been demanding for years. This fair compromise would demonstrate the Council’s sincerity in promoting conservationism and trusting their own studies that show our recreational anglers contribute to the region.
As a Senator for the great state of Louisiana, I have the opportunity to work with the National Marine Fishery Service and keep a watchful eye on the Gulf Council. This is important because many families and jobs are affected by the Council’s actions. The council should adhere to the highest standards of transparency and accountability with each decision they make.
But I’m just one voice — the council needs to hear from you. The public comment period for Amendment 28 and preferred option 5 is currently open, and you can submit your thoughts at www.gulfcouncil.org. There is also an opportunity to voice your opinions in person at the upcoming council meeting in Key West, Fla., on Monday.
Hopefully, the council will recognize that these solutions will most help the very people they were appointed to represent. Recreational anglers in the Gulf deserve a fair shot at what should be a shared resource. The council’s actions and their decision needs to be based on sound science and fairness. It will affect economies, livelihoods, and our way of life across in Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter is the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This piece originally appeared at the Houma Courier.