Conservation groups sue to stop snapper season extension

By Crystal Cole
Posted 7/24/17

Several conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal extension of red snapper season recently announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In the suit, the groups said the …

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Conservation groups sue to stop snapper season extension

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Several conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal extension of red snapper season recently announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In the suit, the groups said the decision jeopardizes the ongoing recovery of Gulf red snapper by increasing the federal private angler fishing season thirteen-fold.

Chris Dorsett, vice president of conservation policy and programs for the Ocean Conservancy (one of the groups involved in the suit), spoke out against the extension of the federal season.

“I have seen firsthand the impacts in the Gulf of Mexico of the drastic historic overfishing that has occurred in the red snapper fishery,” Dorsett said. “Hard work and tough decisions have brought the red snapper fishery back from decades of overfishing – at its worst, the red snapper fishery was at just 3 percent of its historic levels. We’ve made great progress but we’re only about halfway through the rebuilding plan. You don’t stop taking antibiotics halfway through a prescription. You’ll just run the risk of getting sick again.”

Dorsett said his group did not make the decision to join the lawsuit lightly.

“Ocean Conservancy made the very difficult decision to sue because ultimately, this is not just about rebuilding red snapper,” Dorsett said. “It’s about protecting America’s fisheries, which are the backbone of so many coastal communities and the heart of deep cultural traditions rooted in a love for fishing and our ocean.”

The Gulf Shareholders’ Alliance also joined with the groups speaking out against the extension.

“We share the concerns raised in this lawsuit, and believe the recent action by the Commerce Department could have a major, negative impact on red snapper stock in the Gulf of Mexico,” the group said in a statement. “We have long believed that decisions related to fisheries management must be founded on sound science and broad stakeholder input. Commercial fishermen rely upon sustainable fisheries for our livelihoods, and American businesses and consumers depend on our efforts for reliable supplies of seafood. That is why we support a long-term solution to this situation that improves access to red snapper, while preserving the sustainability of this vital fishery in the Gulf for today and for future generations of fishermen and consumers.”

Orange Beach Councilman Jeff Boyd, who has been outspoken on the issue of extending the season, said he felt the lawsuit served the interests of just those environmental groups and not the people who live at and depend on the Gulf.

“It could just be environmentalists concerned,” Boyd said. “To me, what I gathered when I was in D.C. was that if it was up to NOAA, they don’t care if we don’t ever fish again. They’d just as soon we leave the fish alone and nobody fishes. I just don’t think that’s their decision to make that. It’s ours. The taxpayers and the people of the United States own the waters and own the fisheries and it’s not NOAA’s decision to say whether we should fish or not.”

Boyd said he was in contact with federal legislators to see where they were on legislation that could grant more powers to the Gulf Coast states.

I’ve already been on the phone this morning to D.C. trying to find out where we stand on the Snapper Act, which is a bill that’s supposed to come through that’s coming out of Louisiana with Mr. (Bill) Cassidy. I think Cassidy wrote the bill and I think Bradley Byrne is on board with it. I read the bill from Bradley Byrne’s office and our biggest hope os to just get that passed and fix it. It fixes it for us for the next seven years. That bill basically states that we will be able to fish to a depth of 25 fathoms or 25 nautical miles whichever comes first.”

Byrne said he felt the lawsuit

“This lawsuit is without merit,” Byrne said. “A lot of work went into this emergency rule put forward by the Department of Commerce. They went through a lot of study and worked with the individual Gulf states to get the state seasons in line with the federal seasons. The Department of Commerce did their homework here, and I have confidence that this lawsuit from a liberal Washington, D.C. environmental group will not ultimately be successful.” 

Baldwin County Commission Chairman Chris Elliott said he and other local officials weren’t surprised to hear this lawsuit move forward.

“This lawsuit was anticipated,” Elliott said. “The Trump administration and NOAA acted within their authority applying basic common sense to effectively and quantitatively allow the same access to our fishery for recreational anglers.”