WASHINGTON (Nexstar) — After years of feuding with the federal government over red snapper fishing quotas, Gulf Coast lawmakers are pushing a bill to seize decision-making powers from the federal government and give them to state regulators.
Lawmakers say states know the resources best and better understand the impact of their decisions, but environmentalists worry the reforms will bypass science-based conservation methods and subject quota decisions to the whims of local politics, ultimately threatening fish stocks that fuel local economies and provide food to millions of Americans.
When the federal government cut the red snapper season in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico to just three days in 2017, many were upset.
“This a huge economic thing as well as a question of freedom of the American people to fish in their own waters,” said Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-AL.
Byrne says he and other critics are frustrated with federal regulators, who the critics say rely on faulty science and don’t fully understand the local impact of their decisions.
Recreational fishing is a $63 billion a year industry in the United States, nearly a half million jobs. Byrne says that’s why it’s critically important to change the way conservation decisions are made.
“We’re taking control away from the federal government and giving it to state authorities who are closer to it and who we think make the better decisions,” Byrne said.
Byrne supports the Modern Fish act, which would amend a decades-old conservation law passed to stop plummeting fish stocks.
But Meredith Moore with the Ocean Conservancy says Byrne’s bill could be disastrous.
“[It] undermines the core components of our fisheries management law that have brought us success.” said Moore.
Moore says it would let states bypass the conservation models that have allowed species like red snapper to recover after years of overfishing.
She also worries key decisions will be subject to the whims of local politics.
“We are responsible managers of our own fishery,” Byrne said.
For proof, Byrne points to Alabama and Louisiana, two states that under an experimental program this year shut down their own red snapper seasons after state officials determined the sustainable quota was met.