The Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana, the well-funded lobby for recreational fishermen, is undertaking the most aggressive government relations campaign members have seen in roughly two decades.
With at least 10 lobbyists currently registered for the regular session, CCA is targeting the menhaden fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s quite a large target; those commercial outfits that harvest pogies, or menhaden, are part the largest industrial fishery in Louisiana. (Pogies are great as bait, but they are primarily processed for a variety of other products.)
Recreational fishermen have argued for years that the massive nets used by the fishery are killing trout and redfish. Environmentalists also contend the fishery is eliminating an important food source for birds and other animals.
At the Capitol, meanwhile, the question of what to do has become a perennial issue. CCA-Louisiana CEO David Cresson said fishermen are losing patience with the inaction, which is why the association has enlisted help from Advanced Strategies, Pelican State Partners and a host of independent lobbyists.
“Our membership has identified this as an extremely important issue,” Cresson told Louisiana Sportsman.
The CCA sent out a Legislative Alert to its members about HB 1033, stating the bill is “a very positive step forward toward proper management of this enormous fishery. Every year, hundreds of millions of pounds of this critical forage species are removed from Louisiana’s territorial waters, often within a quarter mile of our beaches. At the same time, we have no understanding of how this size or style of industrialized harvest is impacting the ecosystem and the critical species that live there, like specks, reds, shrimp, nesting birds and sea mammals. HB 1033 would provide critical information on the harvest to Louisiana fisheries managers, while providing a basic level of protection for Louisiana’s coastal resources.”
CCA isn’t alone. Francois Kuttel of Westbank Fishing in Empire, a company involved in harvesting pogies, said his industry is likewise spending more money on government relations.
“Since last year we have had to increase our expenditure in that area,” said Kuttel, who has contracted with former Rep. Chris Leopold of Belle Chasse for representation. (Another big player, Omega Protein, has long had Harris, DeVille and Associates in its corner.)
Aside from hiring its own lobbyists, the menhaden industry has taken a somewhat different approach toward legislative relations, relying on family members of workers and operators to make contact with representatives and senators.
Legislation last year to push the menhaden industry further offshore was stalled by opponents and replaced by a task force charged with studying the matter. With the limited findings from the task force in hand, the House and Senate natural resources committees are now advancing bills again to tackle the topic.
House Bill 1033 by Rep. Joe Orgeron, R-Larose, is on the move in the lower chamber and has some sections that are opposed by members of the menhaden industry. Orgeron, who authored last year’s related legislation, is pushing for weekly reporting by the industry during its next season (this year’s season opened April 18) and new catch limits administered through a tiered system based on the distance from the shore.
The full Senate will also soon vote on Senate Bill 447 by Senate Natural Resources Chair Bob Hengens, R-Abbeville. This legislation is part of an ongoing compromise between the industry and CCA that’s being overseen by Hensgens. So far, there is only one point of agreement — weekly reporting of data to Wildlife and Fisheries.
That’s the only provision in the bill approved by the Senate Natural Resources Committee, but talks are ongoing and the legislation is expected to grow as more agreements are struck.
“By the time this gets out of the House, more will be added to the bill,” said Hensgens.
Jeremy Alford is the publisher and editor of Louisiana’s oldest political trade publication. Learn more at www.LaPoliticsWeekly.com.
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