Two Louisiana Congressmen recently introduced legislation to address long-term solutions for red snapper management for recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Red Snapper Act of 2017, filed by Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge) and Sen. Bill Cassidy — along with cosponsors including several other members of the Louisiana Congressional delegation — would offer more access for recreational fishermen and include environmental protections to conserve the species and ensure sustainable and responsible fishery management.

“A long-term solution is overdue. While the health of the red snapper fishery improved, access for recreational fisherman and Louisiana families declined,” Cassidy said in a press release. “The Red Snapper Act ensures better management and protections to keep the fishery thriving.”

In the wake of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations initial 3-day recreational season this summer, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy said federal management of the species has been a disaster.

“Our recreational fisherman have been unfairly left out of the decisions, and they deserve a seat at the table,” Kennedy said. “It makes no sense to leave people who don’t know the difference between a red snapper and a red nose reindeer in complete control. Our bill aims to fix this problem by allowing the Gulf states to set recreational seasons and empowering decision makers with more accurate data, which will help both conservation and access.”

The legislation is based on depth- and distance-based management principles. 

Longer recreational seasons would be achieved by retaining the current 9-mile state seaward boundaries, and also permitting states to establish seasons out to depths of 25 fathoms (150 feet) but no less than 25 nautical miles from shore.

Because water depths along the Gulf coast vary greatly in relation to distance from shore, anglers would be permitted to go 25 nautical miles or out to 150-foot depths — whichever is greater. 

So for example, anglers heading out of Venice could still travel up to 25 nautical miles and fish  for red snapper in water deeper than 150 feet.

According to Gulf-wide studies, only 19 percent of red snapper occur in water 150 feet or less, so the legislation would leave roughly 80 percent of snapper stock protected.

The commercial sector would continue with their IFQ program, and the federally permitted charter sector would also remain unaffected, maintaining the ability to harvest red snapper in state waters during their federal season, according to the release.

States would retain the authority to manage the fishery and establish seasons for harvesting red snapper in state waters out to 9 miles. Fishing days beyond 9 miles would have to be managed in accordance with both the national standards and other criteria outlined in the bill, mindful that this bill still retains the Gulf of Mexico Fishing Management Council’s ability to establish the total allowable catch.