Exactly two weeks after touting a pilot study praised by the governor that would have awarded 150 randomly selected anglers the opportunity to catch 25,000 pounds of Gulf red snapper — and just days after that same plan was torched by the Louisiana legislature in a resolution calling for the study to be scrapped — the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced it was deferring the controversial program until August.

“Realizing that this is a moving target, we’ve had a lot of discussion and a lot of interaction on this, and a lot of new developments have occurred within the last seven days,” Jack Montoucet told the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission Thursday morning in Baton Rouge. “We have decided as a Department to postpone any action on that and move it out until August, which will give us some more time for us to interact and inter-communicate ….”

After the secretary’s announcement, Commissioner Edwin “Pat” Manuel publicly said he wished Commission members would have known beforehand about the Exempted Fishing Permit Application (EFP) pilot program, which received immediate blowback from sportsmen’s groups who contended it was the first step in implementing individual fishing quotas on the recreational community.

“I want to express my disappointment in this deal. This is the second or third time that the Department takes a position without even notifying anyone on the Commission, without any input from anybody on the Commission, and it just seems to me that the Commission is here to take blame for things that were done. Well, we didn’t have anything to do with that,” Manuel said. “The Department kept it away from us. There were people here the day before y’all announced that — the day before — until 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon. And it just disappoints me that y’all don’t notify at least the Commission members. 

“At least we would know what the hell was going on…”

Manuel was referencing a meeting on Wednesday, May 24 at LDWF headquarters with recreational fishing groups and others where attendees were under the impression they were discussing ways to fix red snapper management and come up with ideas to present to the Gulf Council, which is meeting this week in Naples, Fla.

The EFP plan was never mentioned by the Department, but was released to the public the very next day.

Patrick Banks, LDWF’s assistant secretary for fisheries, told LouisianaSportsman.com last week the main goal of the EFP was to bolster data gathered by the Department in anticipation of state-management or red snapper out to 200 miles.

However, the legislature got involved last Friday, and by an 85-6 vote in the House and a 29-0 vote in the Senate, passed House Concurrent Resolution No. 113 authored by Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Baton Rouge) that requested the study not move forward.

Although it was a resolution that was largely symbolic and didn’t carry the weight of law, the Department apparently received the message sent from the State Capitol. 

Chris Macaluso, marine fisheries director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said deferring the program until later this summer gives everyone more time to take a closer look at the program.

“I think that the sportsmen in Louisiana understood what a bad deal this is,” Macaluso said. “And I think they understood where it was coming from and who was pushing it, and they want to see a fix to this poor management system for red snapper that helps everyone. Not one that picks 150 hand-selected winners that the Department chooses to receive a benefit that everyone else doesn’t get. 

“This gives the public more time to get involved. It gives the (Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries) Commission time to bring this before the public, and it gives the Department more time to work with the public and work with Congress and the legitimate stakeholders in this fishery to find a solution that’s not an individual fishing quota, or sets us up to establish some type of privatization scheme for our fisheries.”

Macaluso suggested that interested anglers get involved now, and share their thoughts and opinions with the Department and their elected leaders.

“Moving forward, the public needs to be very heavily involved in this. I think they need to be at the Commission meeting in July, and I think they need to very forcefully let the Department know that this is not how we want our fish managed,” he said. “This gives time for the public to be made very aware of this, and what’s really happening, and what’s really at stake — instead of being blindsided like we were two weeks ago.”