Recently the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) denied emergency changes to management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, explaining that the requested new rules could result in “unfair and inequitable management.” Fisheries management on the regional level is a very complicated process, but here is an explanation for what is happening:
The proposed emergency rules didn’t have good controls to prevent overfishing, which is a requirement of the nation’s law that governs fisheries (the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act passed in 2006).
Critical to the issue is a previous emergency rule the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council had passed in February 2013, which NMFS approved. Several Gulf states opted to set fishing seasons in their territorial waters (between 3-9 miles from shore depending on the state) that were different than what they had collectively approved at the Gulf Council for the rest of the Gulf’s federal waters.
That February emergency rule had the intent of creating fairness across the Gulf. States who matched the federal Gulf Council season in their state waters got a longer season in the federal waters off their states, rather than being penalized for overfishing that might occur in states allowing a longer season in their territorial waters. More importantly, that February emergency rule was needed to ensure there was a mechanism in place for managers to prevent overfishing and to continue rebuilding the overfished red snapper population.
However, at a meeting in April, the Gulf Council attempted to reverse course and passed a motion requesting NMFS to rescind the February emergency rule. NMFS has now denied that request because the Gulf Council had offered no provisions to account for overfishing in states that would have longer seasons and more fishing effort.
There is still an open door to resolve the needs of states to have different seasons than the current one-season-fits-all design. The Gulf Council is working on developing the concept of regional management of red snapper through a robust stakeholder process known as a fishery management plan amendment. The stated goal of the regional management amendment is to continue to stay the course on the red snapper rebuilding plan and ensure healthy fish populations, as well as delegate authority to develop seasons and management alternatives for a portion of the Annual Catch Limit to the states.