Even as the extended federal season is about to enter its sixth weekend in the Gulf of Mexico, the battle over red snapper waged on Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. — as two environmental groups filed suit against the decision to allow private anglers more fishing days this summer.
In a press release, the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund said the lawsuit doesn’t seek to end the 2017 summer season, but seeks to prohibit similar extensions by the U.S. Department of Commerce in the future.
The release states the extended 39-day Friday/Saturday/Sunday-only season that started on June 16 will result in private anglers catching up to three times their “science-based limit,” — even though the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ LA Creel data show state anglers might fish through Labor Day and still not reach the state’s self-imposed 15-percent quota.
Coastal Conservation Association-Louisiana’s CEO David Cresson said the lawsuit was right out of EDF’s playbook.
“It’s no surprise. We figured they would sue when this first happened because it’s what they do,” Cresson said. “Basically, anytime that there’s something positive for anglers, anti-angler groups like these step up and file lawsuits.”
According to the lawsuit filed Monday, the plaintiffs are the EDF and the Ocean Conservancy.
“By all accounts, the extended season has been extremely positive for anglers and businesses across the coast. But it’s just not a surprise at all that these groups would file suit to keep us off the water,” Cresson said. “They don’t like anglers, and they’d rather us never fish — and they’ll do whatever they need to do to lead to that end.”
Chris Macaluso, marine fisheries director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, Congressional reform via the Magnuson-Stevens Act would be the best alternative for a long-term solution.
“We need more consistency in ways that seasons are set in federal waters. I think what happened this year was Congressional leaders and the Department of Commerce and the state fisheries management agencies looked at the (original) three-day season and recognized how limiting it was, and wanted to do something,” Macaluso said. “So I think there was recognition this was a short-term fix.
“But I think Congressional reform has always been the goal …. I think there have been opportunities to do it in the past, and those have been resisted by environmental groups and by commercial fishing interests, but I think now more than ever it’s in the best interest of all involved to come up with a good solution to this ongoing problem, and recognize that recreational fishing needs to be managed successfully — and not necessarily managed strictly on a commercial fishing model.”
If anything, Macaluso said LA Creel shows how solid data collection could actually mean more opportunities for recreational anglers in the future.
“There was an assumption that the recreational fishermen were going to blow their quota completely out of the water during this 39 day season, and thus far that hasn’t been the case in Louisiana,” he said. “So I think what this 39-day agreement shows is their can be cooperation between federal fisheries managers and the states to allow for more opportunity for fishing ….
“I think we’re making strides in data collection to show we can have more opportunity — and still manage the fish conservatively.”