Gulf states agree on snapper management framework that could remove federal oversight of fishery

Pausina says Louisiana’s recreational season will start March 28; hints at potential daily limit increase when federal season ends

For the first time ever, all five Gulf states have banded together to create a management framework that, if ultimately approved by Congress, would finally remove the red snapper fishery from the control of the federal government.

Randy Pausina, head of fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the cover letter for the plan was being wrapped up late Wednesday afternoon and details of the framework were being sent to each Gulf state’s congressional delegation on Thursday.

“In a nutshell, it removes red snapper from the federal government completely – commercially and recreationally,” Pausina said. “And it removes it from the Fisheries Management Plan and from the Gulf Council’s authority and puts it over into this new group that we’re going to form.

“We would then put a management plan together through this authority, which would be the five state directors, and give stock assessments, set up our management scheme, set up our monitoring and our season framework. Then bless it, get it out there and start managing red snapper. That’s really it.”

Pausina said he and his counterparts with Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida formulated the states’ plan last month after continued issues with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries.

“Finally, the five state directors locked ourselves in a room in New Orleans a month ago and said, ‘We’re not leaving until we come up with a framework that we can give to Congress and say, ‘Look, if you’re going to do something, do this,’” he said. “And that’s what we did.

“We did it pretty quickly. We’re pretty proud of it.”

Rather than each Gulf state’s delegation formulating individual bills to address specific state-related issues as had been done in the past, the new framework already has all states’ support  and presents a united front to Congress, he said.

“We needed to give some guidance so that Congress knows these five Gulf states are in unison,” Pausina said. “We’re not presenting the bill, we’re just presenting the framework that if somebody’s going to drop a bill, this is the framework we would like for it to follow. We’re just trying to point them in the right direction. If you do this, you’ve got the five states on board.”

Pausina said it was his understanding that Sen. David Vitter had filed a placeholder bill that would be replaced by the actual five-state plan once the delegations receive the information.

In a press release Wednesday, Vitter said he was happy the Gulf states worked together to formulate a management plan they could all live with.

“I’ve always said that states are much more capable of managing the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico than the federal government, so it is encouraging to see all five Gulf states unanimously agree on a framework to do exactly that,” Vitter said. “I will continue working toward allowing states more control over this important fishery, while also promoting increased transparency and accountability within the federal Regional Fishery Management Councils.”

As for the 2015 state snapper season, Pausina said details were being finalized, but confirmed it would start on March 28. He hinted that the state’s daily snapper limit might even increase at the conclusion of the yet-to-be-announced federal season.

“I’m pretty confident (Louisiana’s state season) will be seven days a week from the get go,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to keep it at two fish at 16 inches, and maybe after the federal season go up.”

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Patrick Bonin is the former editor of Louisiana Sportsman magazine and