Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Charlie Melancon’s opposition to a congressional bill to hand over red snapper management to the Gulf states hinged on the bill’s lack of federal funding and what he estimated could be a $10 million annual price tag.
But that flew in the face of previous statements by his predecessor’s administration, which said in a congressional hearing that the agency had plenty of money for state management thanks to a saltwater fishing license increase instituted to fund the data-collection program known as LA Creel.
So who’s correct?
“Unfortunately, I would tend to say my current boss is more than likely closer to the truth,” LDWF Assistant Secretary of the Office of Fisheries Patrick Banks told LouisianaSportsman.com.
The reason is pretty simple, Banks said: LA Creel collects only one part of the data needed to perform full stock assessments necessary to effectively manage fisheries.
“LA Creel collects fisheries-dependent data,” the biologist said.
That includes information on recreational and charter catches, he said.
“What fish are caught, what types of fish are caught — stuff like that,” Banks explained.
However, LA Creel doesn’t capture any commercial landings, fisheries-independent data (think scientific sampling) or enforcement between state waters and the boundary of federal waters at 200 nautical miles.
And there probably just isn’t enough money in the program to cover those non-recreational aspects of management, he said.
“We would have to replace all that offshore sampling (currently done as part of the federal management program) and enhance that sampling so we could have a complete Louisiana stock assessment,” Banks said. “I’ve done my best to find what kind of proof (former LDWF Secretary Robert) Barham and Randy (Pausina, the former head of LDWF’s fisheries division) had to go to Congress and make those statements.
“There was no cost estimate done.”
LA Creel has brought in about $3 million since the saltwater license increased in 2014, Banks said. The amount in Fiscal Year 2016, which ended at the end of June was $1.7 million, he said.
But Banks said a cursory look at what it would take to fully administer red snapper management indicates the expenses would outstrip that funding.
“The amount of money that is generated through the saltwater license increase certainly covers LA Creel and a little bit of lagniappe — but not much more,” he said. “What (LA Creel revenue is) paying for is one segment (of fisheries data collection).
“There was just no way that the little over $2 million we get in LA Creel (annually) will cover all that.”
Congressman Garrett Graves, who authored the bill to remove federal oversight of red snapper in the Gulf and hand the responsibility over to the states, has said funding was removed from his legislation after Barham’s administration asserted sufficient funding existed without tapping into the federal treasury.
Saying that Melancon’s stance is “political crap,” Graves told LouisianaSportsman.com that current federal funding used in Gulf of Mexico red snapper management could be sent to the states.
“… I plan on ensuring that those monies are removed from the National Marine Fisheries Service at the end of the day, and (that funding) could be given to the states or returned for deficit reduction,” he said.
Banks said a cost analysis was under way last week.
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission — which unanymously passed a resolution supporting the Graves bill — has requested "information related to the cost of red snapper management," Banks said.
"We will be presenting such on Thursday (during the July LWFC meeting)," he said. "We are hoping to have most of the cost estimate completed by then."
But he said he would be shocked if additional funding was not required.
“I feel pretty confident it’s going to be over the little over $2 million we get off the licenses,” Banks said.