The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission rebuffed the agreement the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries that allowed federal officials to dictate state recreational fishing closures by reopening all state waters immediately during a special meeting today (Aug. 20).
“If you decide you want to go out there, catch fish, clean them and eat them for your own family, you should be able to do that,” Commissioner Ronald Graham said after the decision.
The action came after LDWF officials closed portions of Barataria and Timbalier bays over the weekend, despite Commission action in July instructing the agency to only close waters when in cases of heavy oiling or scientific evidence showing consumption threats.
All tests to date have shown Louisiana seafood safe to eat, but LDWF officials said this week that they implemented the new closures under an agreement made with the federal Food and Drug Administration before the Commission’s directive last month.
However, the declaration of emergency reopening recreational finfishing in all state waters specifically stated that recreational fishing in state waters “… is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration ….”
This latest action by the Commission applies only to recreational finfishing: Recreational shrimping and crabbing is prohibited wherever commercial fishing for those species is closed.
Commercial interests lined up against any opening of the recreational fishing, claiming that to do so would send “a mixed message” about the safety of the state’s seafood to consumers across the nation.
Rep. Joe Harrison urged the commissioners to follow the protocol set under the agreement with the FDA and wait for “good, scientific data,” but Commissioner Pat Morrow said he didn’t understand why there should be a delay.
“The scientific data to date indicates there is no reason (for the closures),” Morrow asked Harris. “Don’t you think if we open it at least recreationally there is no perception that there is oil out there?
“I think the citizens of Louisiana have suffered enough, both recreationally and commercially.”
Morrow also said the feds have prolonged the agony associated with the spill.
“I’ve got to tell you, the FDA has two speeds: slow and stop,” he said. “They have hindered the state’s ability to put this behind us.”
Coastal Conservation Association-Louisiana’s David Cresson urged commissioners to reopen of recreational fishing.
“It’s the precedent that’s set, that (the LDWF) can close anything (it wants) no matter what the Commission says because one individual (segment) is suffering,” Cresson said. “It is the message being sent, ‘That we can do it because we want to’ or … the FDA tells us, ‘That is the way we’d like it to be ….’”
As to concerns from commercials, Cresson said he didn’t believe those worries should have a bearing on recreational fishing.
“I just don’t see what this has to do with me sitting on the beach out in front of my camp catching speckled trout and redfish,” he said.
Commissioner Graham agreed.
“It ain’t apples and apples,” Graham said of the comparison between recreational and commercial fishing concerns. “It’s apples and oranges.”