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Mar 27, 2014 6:09 PM by Dave Fields

Fed Court: U.S. gov't improperly managed red snapper fishery, violated law

The U.S. government violated the law by failing to properly manage the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper fishery, a federal court ruled.

The Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) reported Thursday that the decision means that "any future management actions for red snapper - including any potential reallocation of quota to the recreational sector - must be developed with adequate accountability measures consistent with the Court's order. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will have to revise its regulations governing the recreational red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico to "require whatever accountability measures are necessary to constrain catch to the quota."

According to a press release from the GSI, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled in favor of the 21 commercial fishermen on five counts of their suit against Penny Sue Pritzker, acting in the official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Commerce; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the NMFS.

In the ruling the court agreed that the persistent overharvesting by the recreational fishing sector in recent years has harmed all stakeholders in the fishery, including commercial and recreational fishermen and fishing communities, and deprived consumers of access to fresh fish.

The plaintiffs' argument suggested that the National Marine Fisheries Services failed "to implement sufficient accountability measures to ensure that the recreational fishing sector adheres to its annual fishing quota", and in the process, violating the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs federal fisheries.

The release also said that the court also ruled "that the lack of accountability measures in the recreational sector caused a de facto reallocation of the red snapper fishery from the commercial sector to the recreational sector in violation of statutory and regulatory requirements."

Plaintiffs expressed their satisfaction with the court's decision.

"We are very excited that the judge agreed with us on all counts," said one of the plaintiffs in the case, David Krebs, president of Florida's Ariel Seafood and a Gulf Seafood Institute board member. "For years recreational fishermen have been frustrated, it is past time to fix their recreational accountability problems."

The release also indicated that "inadequate controls have permitted the recreational sector to routinely catch far more red snapper than it is allocated under the fishery management plan." GSI press information also noted that the fifty-page ruling called attention to NMFS administrator Roy Crabtree's description of "recreational sector's particular management uncertainties."

"If you look at the performance of the fishery in the past, we have, more often than not, had overages in the range of a million pounds. We still have a lot of management uncertainty in this fishery in terms of our ability to close the fisheries on time in the recreational sector," said Crabtree.

He went on to say about the recreational sector, "There's been a great deal of management uncertainty and that's reflected in the quota overruns to the recreational sector. We all know there's a great deal of uncertainty inherent in determining when to close the recreational fishery and what they're ultimately going to catch."

"We have been working with the recreational sector for a long time, and we hope this ruling will strengthen that cooperation," said plaintiff Buddy Guindon, owner of Katie's Seafood in Galveston. "The ruling lays the groundwork for a better fishery management plan that will result in a better stock of fish."

"We have been working with the recreational sector for a long time, and we hope this ruling will strengthen that cooperation," said plaintiff Buddy Guindon, owner of Katie's Seafood in Galveston.

According to the Galveston red snapper fisherman, "Litigation was not our first choice, but the agency's mismanagement posed a real threat to the entire red snapper fishery, and to the businesses dependent on it. We look forward to working with NMFS and the Gulf Council to solve a longstanding issue in this fishery-the need for accountability measures in the recreational sector."

"The council will likely discuss the lawsuit ruling and its implications during the April Council meeting in Baton Rouge. I can't speculate what action they may take," said Charlene Ponce, spokesperson for the Council.

"We want to work with the Council to resolve the recreational red snapper problems as soon as possible," said Krebs. "We have always wanted to help. We are not trying to take any fish away, but instead want to work to resolve the problems of the fishery. We are ready to listen to what suggestions the Council offers, and stand ready to work with them."

GSI said that "inadequate controls have permitted the recreational sector to routinely catch far more red snapper than it is allocated under the fishery management plan."

The court pointed to "overages in the recreational sector have occurred in six of the last seven years." However, the commercial fishing industry has been compliant of its quota every year, the GSI release said.

The commercial sector has an effective IFQ program," said Donny Waters, a commercial red snapper fisherman from Pensacola, Florida. "The agency's actions on the recreational side were undermining the tremendous progress we've made. But we hope this decision will improve accountability in the recreational sector."

The Gulf Council is scheduled to discuss in April and vote in May on the reallocation of additional snapper to recreational fishermen from the current 51/49 split favoring commercial fisherman. Council members have already stated a preference for Alternative 5 from Amendment 28; allocating 75% of red snapper in excess of 9.12 million pounds to the recreational sector and 25% to the commercial sector.

"We have always wanted to help. We are not trying to take anything away, but instead work to resolve the problems of the fishery," said Krebs.

NOAA spokesperson would not comment on pending litigation, but said that the decision is being reviewed.

"We want to make sure that red snapper fishing is available for generations to come," said Wayne Werner, a commercial red snapper fisherman from Alachua, Florida. "All we want is to make sure the public has access to red snapper in restaurants and grocery stores. This decision will allow the stock to rebuild more rapidly and allow all sectors to catch more fish in the future."

 

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