The suit was filed yesterday by the LDWF, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the federal District Court in Brownsville, Texas, the LDWF reported.
Last week, the governors of Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Mississippi called on NMFS to allow states to manage red snapper fishing off their respective coasts.
The lawsuit alleges that there is no emergency to justify an NMFS threat to shorten the fishing seasons for red snapper off the Louisiana and Texas coasts. The two states also allege that the emergency rule violates the federal policy of cooperative federalism by improperly attempting to regulate the red snapper season in state waters.
"The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, on behalf of recreational fishermen and those whose livelihood depends on reasonable access to red snapper stocks, has taken this action to send the message to NMFS that a nine-day season for Louisiana landings is totally unreasonable and unacceptable," commission Chairman Ronald "Ronny" Graham said.
TPWD head T. Dan Friedkin said his agency really had no choice in the matter in the face of the threat by federal authorities to punish Louisiana and Texas for setting state seasons not in compliance with federal regulations.
"While we would prefer a cooperative regional management approach and are still hopeful that we can reach such a resolution, TPWD has a responsibility to take legal action to protect our state's authority to manage the red snapper fishery within Texas waters," Friedkin said. "We have heard loudly and clearly from our anglers and other stakeholders that they expect nothing less from us."
On Feb. 8, over the strong objections of state agency representatives from Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to implement an emergency rule that could shorten the recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters off the Texas coast to as few as 12 days and to nine days off the Louisiana coast, down from a projected 22-day season.
This federal action has been threatened in spite of NMFS officials' contention regional management of red snapper would not work.
In 2012, the snapper season in federal waters throughout the Gulf was just 46 days. In contrast, because snapper stocks are doing well and growing in the Gulf, snapper fishing is allowed 365 days a year in Texas state waters and 88 days in Louisiana state waters.
On April 18, the council voted 8 to 7 to overturn the emergency rule, in effect reversing the Feb. 8 vote. Louisiana and Texas representatives said the lawsuit was an added measure should NMFS not act in accordance with the latest council motion prior to the start of red snapper season June 1
The Louisiana and Texas agencies maintain that while a proposed shortened season will have no apparent conservation benefit, it would definitely have an economic impact. For Louisiana, reducing a 45-day season to a nine-day season could result in an estimated decline in economic value of approximately $8 million to recreational anglers in that state. TPWD estimates that the originally projected 27-day season would generate at least $28 million from recreational fishermen in Texas, while a 12-day season would cut that figure by at least $16 million in lost retail sales in Texas.
The federal court has been asked to expedite its consideration of the case so a decision is reached before June 1.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said he hoped the lawsuit is ultimately unneeded.
"I am hopeful that NMFS will follow the Gulf Council and overturn the emergency rule that arbitrarily reduces the red snapper season in Louisiana's territorial waters to no more than nine days," Caldwell said. "However, this lawsuit is a necessary step to protect the state's ability to set reasonable fishing regulations for in-state waters for the benefit of Louisiana's residents and anglers."
Click here to read full coverage of the fight for regional management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.