Sunday, June 26, 2016
STATES CAN'T AFFORD TO MANAGE RED SNAPPER
On June 14, advocates of rational fisheries management lost a round, as the House Natural Resources Committee approved H.R. 3094, Rep. Garret Graves’ (R-Louisiana) Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act, which would strip the National Marine Fisheries Service of all management responsibility for Gulf red snapper, and hand that responsibility over to the states.
Last week, the opponents of rational fisheries management were very surprised and upset to learn that the top fisheries manager in at least one of those states, Louisiana, has no desire to accept such management responsibility, and urges the defeat of Rep. Graves’ bill.
Charlie Melancon, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries issued a statement in opposition to H.R. 3094, which raised a point that the anti-NMFS elements in the angling community never mention as they race blindly down the dead-end path that leads toward H.R. 3094: Fisheries management costs money. And states don’t have too much of that.
Secretary Melancon made it quite clear.
“Without federal funding, Louisiana could potentially lack the proper resources to manage the red snapper fishery. H.R. 3094 would not be a viable option for Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. It would be fiscally irresponsible for the Department to support any mandate that would result in an unknown amount of fiscal burden placed on the State of Louisiana for the management of a single species of fish.”
The statement was reportedly written on state letterhead, which included the name of Louisiana’s governor along with that of Mr. Melancon, so the anti-H.R. 3094 sentiment may be shared by folks higher up in the state’s administration as well.
Louisiana regulators probably would have felt better about H.R. 3094 if there was some chance that the expenses related to red snapper management, currently included in the NMFS budget, would continue to be paid by the feds even after the states took over all responsibility for the species.
However, such federal funding is not in the cards. Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), very much in tune with a House and Committee majority that appears to believe that natural resources are to be exploited for quick profit rather than managed and conserved, amended Graves’ bill during the Committee markup, to assure that no federal funds would be paid to state red snapper managers.
That amendment soured Mr. Melancon on the bill, because yes, fisheries management costs money. As he stated
“I am opposed to having a bill passed that comes in and causes people in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the people of the state of Louisiana heartburn over however many millions that we’re going to have to fork up. And it’s going to be in the millions—I just don’t know if it’s in the low millions or the high millions. So then are we going to be able to do a Cadillac job or a Yugo? My best bet is that if we have to fund it on what I think we have available, it’s going to be a Yugo—if not a horse and carriage. And that’s not good science.”
That statement, coming directly from a top fisheries manager, pretty well debunks claims coming from the militant angling industry and anglers’ rights groups that
“It’s abundantly clear that the states are best equipped to manage this valuable fishery.”
Federal management of red snapper may not be perfect, but at worst, it’s somewhere around the Ford/Chevrolet level. Maybe not a Cadillac, but far better than the Yugo—or non-mechanized transport—that, by their own admission, is the best that the states can provide.
And even though Louisiana’s Melancon was the only state fisheries director who has so far spoken out against the unfunded mandate of H.R. 3094, the smart money says that he isn’t alone. In fact, he notes that, at the last Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council meeting
“other state directors he spoke with…were also concerned about the lack of federal funding.”
Of course, little things like a lack of funds don’t mean too much to the folks trying to overthrow the federal fisheries management system. They are still attempting to deny reality, despite Mr. Melancon’s comments, and perpetuate their delusion that the states can manage red snapper more effectively than the feds.
David Cresson is Executive Director of Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana, one of the anglers’ rights groups that is aggressively supporting H.R. 3094. Despite speaking to Mr. Melancon twice after he announced his opposition to Congressman Graves’ bill, Mr. Cresson continued to insist that
“The states have the best science, and that’s been proven, and the Graves bill would give the authority to the states to implement that science.”
Note to Mr. Cresson: Science that the Secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries likens to a Yugo, if not a horse and buggy, is not the best available science. If it is, the red snapper is in a lot more trouble than anyone thought…
It is always possible that people like Mr. Cresson just don’t understand how much is involved in managing a fish such as red snapper. While expressing his dissatisfaction with Mr. Melancon’s prudent approach to H.R. 3094, he noted that his organization supported an increase in the cost of Louisiana’s salt water fishing license, which increase was supposedly earmarked to support fisheries research through the state’s new creel survey program.
Mr. Cresson observed that
“When fishermen in Louisiana asked for the license fee increase, they did so with the expectation that a portion of that would go toward managing red snapper. The department has been doing a great job of collecting data with that new money, and all of a sudden, we can’t? It just makes me wonder.”
Such comments just ignore the fact that management of red snapper, or any other fish, involves a lot more than just counting and measuring what anglers bring back to the dock.
Creel surveys tell managers nothing about current recruitment, or the amount of red snapper left in the water once the fishing is done. They tell little about the size and age structure of the remaining spawning stock, about the impact of illegal (and thus largely uncounted) harvest or about the survival rates of snapper tossed back over the side by anglers.
As Mr. Melancon pointed out, managing red snapper properly is an involved an expensive process, and the states are either unable or unwilling to spend the money required just to manage that one species of fish.
Thus, this recent twist to the red snapper story just reinforces what most folks observing the issue realized a long time ago.
The aggressively anti-NMFS, anti-Magnuson Act, pro-state management organizations aren’t really looking for better management at all.
They’re just looking for ways to kill more fish.
And if handing over management responsibilities to underfunded state management agencies, which are unable to properly assess the state of the stock, is what it’s going to take to do that, well, that’s just fine with them.