ASA convenes in New Orleans for annual Sportfishing Summit

The ASA annual Sportfishing Summit was held Oct. 25-28 in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy ASA)
The ASA annual Sportfishing Summit was held Oct. 25-28 in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy ASA)

Graves touts state control of Gulf fisheries, coastal restoration as priorities

Representatives from the world’s largest fishing tackle companies and fisheries advocacy and conservation groups gathered in New Orleans the last week of October for the American Sportfishing Association’s annual Sportfishing Summit.

The event, which moves to different fishing hotspots across the country each fall, gives leaders in recreational fishing manufacturing, retail, marketing and policy the chance to analyze market trends, compare notes on advertising and public relations and talk about state, regional and federal fisheries management policy.

Federal legislation and policies were the focus of the discussion on the opening day of meetings as Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves and NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Janet Coit addressed attendees, covering a range of management issues.

Graves gives thanks

Graves thanked industry representatives for the ongoing support for several of his priorities and victories in Congress, including the passage of the Modern Fish Act in 2018 and the DESCEND Act in 2020, which requires the use of venting tools or descending devices when fishing for reef fish like snapper and grouper in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I want to thank all of you in the room for helping us pass important fisheries management bills and the funding for the Great Red Snapper Count and many other issues affecting recreational fishing,” he said. “For too long the Magnuson Stevens Act, which manages all federal fisheries, focused entirely on commercial fishing. But we know that recreational fishing participation, especially in the Gulf, needs to be considered and managed as well. The Modern Fish Act makes sure the needs of recreational fishing are considered.”

Graves, who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee was re-elected in Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District with more than 80 percent of the vote Nov. 8. He illustrated the importance of consistent seasons in culturally and economically vital fisheries like red snapper and why he has continually advocated for more state control of coastal fishing throughout his eight years in Washington.

“Recreational fishing has a huge impact on Louisiana’s economy of about $1.6 billion each year,” he said. “It’s critical to our culture and economy that we manage using the best science and data available, and in Louisiana, that’s LA CREEL, rather than data systems that aren’t appropriate like the federal MRIP program.”

A lot we can do

Janet Coit, who was appointed as head of federal fisheries by President Joe Biden in June 2021, recognized the importance of fisheries conservation efforts in the Gulf, like passing the DESCEND Act and support from recreational fishing community to help managers adapt to changes in fisheries stock sizes and distribution.

“There’s a lot we can do to bring in innovation like the DESCEND Act does, to limit dead discards in reef fish and to ensure the sustainability and survivability of species,” Coit said. “We have to look at the tropicalization of the Gulf of Mexico and other issues brought by climate change and make sure management can adapt to those changes.”

Graves noted that while there have been several advances and improvements over the last eight years in working with NOAA on recreational fishing, he is concerned that state management of red snapper may be taking a step backwards as the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and NOAA contemplate calibrating state data to historic federal data.

That move could cut red snapper seasons in Mississippi and Alabama by as much as 60 percent in coming years.

Allowing more state control over counting and managing red snapper was one of the hot topics at the recent ASA annual Sportfishing Summit. Here is Jodi Mallett with a red snapper caught in Fourchon with Capt. Kurt O’Brien.
Allowing more state control over counting and managing red snapper was one of the hot topics at the recent ASA annual Sportfishing Summit. Here is Jodi Mallett with a red snapper caught in Fourchon with Capt. Kurt O’Brien.

“I and many of my Congressional colleagues oppose the calibration effort right now because it’s attempting to take very accurate data that we’re getting from the states and force it into the less accurate data from the federal system,” he said. “We should use the more accurate state data and calibrate to it, not the other way around.”

Coastal restoration

Graves also emphasized the need for the state to move forward aggressively with coastal restoration efforts, including diversions from the Mississippi River, to sustain and grow Louisiana’s recreational fishing economy.

“When the levees were built on the river in 1927, we went from growing nearly a mile of wetlands each year to losing 16 square miles a year,” he said. “That loss threatens one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Nearly 90 precent of the fish species in the Gulf depend on Louisiana’s wetland as a nursery ground and source of food. We need to grow the pie, increase production in the future and the only way to do that is to focus on habitat.”

The 2023 Sportfishing Summit will be held in Destin, Fla., from Oct. 3-6.

“ASA’s mission is to look out for the interests of the sportfishing industry and the entire sportfishing community,” said ASA President Glenn Hughes. “To do this, we focus on clean water, abundant fisheries, access to those fish, favorable trade and commerce polices and increasing fishing participation.”

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