On the same day embattled Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries secretary Charlie Melancon called a full staff meeting to tell employees he was remaining in charge of the agency, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he still believed in state management of red snapper — even though funding concerns prevented him from getting behind a congressional bill that would give the Gulf states full control of the fishery.
"There's some good news for some, and some bad news for others," Melancon told the gathering in Baton Rouge, according to Nola.com. "The good news, for the majority, I believe, is I am here for the duration. Some people have exaggerated ... my demise.
"For some, the bad news is I am here for the duration.”
Since coming aboard in January, Melancon has pitted himself against the recreational angling community when he spoke in favor of leaving red snapper management with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council — rather than supporting Rep. Garret Graves’ legislation in Congress that would strip the fishery away from the federal government and award it to the states.
Melancon has said he believes in state management, but says the bill — H.R. 3094 —does not provide the necessary federal funding for his department to accomplish the task.
"The red snapper issue, I've been totally frustrated with that, in trying to solve the problem, to be told that I had to follow one lead in order to do it," he told employees Thursday. "I believe I, as a manager, should have the ability to look at options to solve the problems that exist, and I'm continuing to do that.
"I've talked with the governor in recent days, and he says, 'Go for it,' so I'm going for it.”
Edwards told Nola.com he was well aware of the ongoing snapper debate, which has spurred tumultuous monthly meetings of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission — including one exchange this summer when Melancon referred to Graves as ‘Pinocchio.’
"I know this debate has gotten heated, and a lot of times, the heat has distracted from what really is going on, and that's unfortunate," Edwards said. "One of the things that I've asked Secretary Melancon to do is to make sure that the temperature gets turned down so that the dialogue can happen in a meaningful way.”
At last week’s Red Snapper Education Day in Baton Rouge at LDWF Headquarters, Graves’ chief of staff delivered a letter saying research costs would still be covered by the federal government if H.R. 3094 were to eventually be signed into law.
But Edwards said a letter from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates otherwise.
"NOAA put us on notice that, under the bill as it currently is, they wouldn't be obligated to share their information, and so we would have to collect it all," he said. "What I've asked Congressman Graves to do is to please work to try to get the funding back into the bill. That would put the state in the best possible position to go forward with state management of red snapper."