Thursday, July 7, 2016
LOUISIANA SNAPPER DEBATE HIGHLIGHTS FLAWS IN STATE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Thanks to events that have unfolded in Louisiana over the past couple of weeks, the wheels may be coming off the much-ballyhooed effort to turn red snapper management over to the states that border the Gulf of Mexico.
I’ve written about the effort to strip federal fisheries managers of their authority to manage red snapper on a number of occasions. Each time, I’ve made an effort to poke a few more holes in the popular narrative that state officials can manage red snapper better than the feds. Whether or not I succeeded in doing so is something for you to decide.
However, whether or not my words were convincing, nothing I can say could ever equal the words coming out of the mouths of the managers themselves, or more precisely, out of the mouth of Charlie Melancon, Louisiana’s top fisheries manager.
I wrote about Mr. Melancon not too long ago, after he expressed his opposition to H.R. 3094, Rep. Garret Graves’ (R-Louisiana) so-called Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act, which is intended to give the states exclusive jurisdiction over all red snapper swimming in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Angling industry groups, along with the biggest names in the anglers’ rights community, unhappy with the strict regulations imposed by the science-based federal management system, have made H.R. 3094 a cause célèbre, and a key part of their national legislative strategy.
The five Gulf states, in adopting regulations that apply only in those states’ waters, have already shown a willingness to impose rules far less restrictive than those imposed by the feds. The militant angling groups expect that, if H.R. 3094 became law, similar rules would apply in federal waters, too, giving recreational fishermen a much longer season and a far larger kill.
However, as I noted in the earlier essay, Mr. Melancon opposes the bill, for the simple reason that the State of Louisiana lacks the money to pay for the work needed to manage red snapper in anything like a competent manner.
Chris Macaluso, who heads the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Marine Fisheries, and has been one of the more rabid supporters of H.R. 3094, howled in dismay when he heard about Melancon’s opposition, complaining that
“At this point, with the state of Louisiana using money from anglers to pay for a data-collection system in LA Creel that is beginning to be viewed universally as better than what the federal government is offering, the optics of the state not being supportive of state fisheries management are pretty bad.”
Macaluso’s comments were echoed by David Cresson, Executive Director of Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana, who said
“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 now all of a sudden, it can’t? It makes me wonder.”
Well, David Cresson (along with Chirs Macaluso and everyone else who challenged Mr. Melancon’s statements on the cost of red snapper management) can now stop wondering, because Patrick Banks, Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Office of Fisheries, has laid it out in terms that they can hopefully understand—at least if they want to.
“LA Creel collects fisheries-dependent data. What fish are caught, what types of fish are caught—stuff like that.”
But as the Louisiana Sportsman reporter interviewing Mr. Banks pointed out
“LA Creel doesn’t capture any commercial landings, fisheries-independent data (think scientific sampling) or enforcement between state waters and the boundary of federal waters at 200 nautical miles.”
Mr. Banks added that
“We would have to replace all of that offshore sampling (currently done as part of the federal management program) and enhance that sampling so we could have a complete Louisiana stock assessment.”
That’s the plain fiscal reality. But if you think that the lack of adequate funding is the biggest problem with state management of red snapper, or any other species, you’re wrong.
The biggest problem is politics.
David Cresson was probably surprised by Mr. Melancon’s revelation because he thought that the state-management advocates already had Louisiana’s support in the bag. As reported by Louisiana Sportsman,
“For years under then-Gov. Bobby Jindal, the [Louisiana Fish and Wildlife] department and Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana worked together to try to strip Gulf red snapper management from the feds because of brief federal seasons and two-fish daily limits.
“…Graves, a Republican, said the bill was amended this month and federal funding was removed because then-LDFW Secretary Robert Barham and other state wildlife department leaders addressed the [House] Natural Resources Committee last October in Washington, D.C., and they said they didn’t need federal money for the regional management program.”
However, Robert Barham and those other leaders worked for Republican Governor Jindal, who has since been replaced by John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. And that’s when people started wondering just how Louisiana was going to pay for Rep. Graves’ bill. According to the current LDFW Assistant Secretary, Mr. Banks,
“I’ve done my best to find what kind of proof (former LDWF Secretary Robert) Barham and Randy (Pausina, the former head of LDFW’s fisheries division) had to go to Congress and make those statements.
“There was no cost estimate done.”
Apparently, there was just a Republican Governor sending a few staffers to testify in favor of a Republican Congressman’s bill, at the urging of a few of his constituents.
And then Rep. Graves had the cojones to complain that Mr. Melancon’s statement was “Political crap,” and question where his numbers came from…
Now, things are threatening to come full circle. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, a policy-making body separate from the Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife, will be examining the costs of state management of red snapper at its next meeting.
That Commission is made up of seven members, three of which must come from a coastal parish (county) and represent the commercial fishing or fur industries; the other four must merely be Louisiana citizens who do not represent such industries. It just so happens that at least two of the seven Commission members are also members of Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana, which makes it very likely that politics will raise its hoary head once again.
And that, in the end, is why state management of red snapper, or any other fish, will never be as effective as federal management of the same species.
Federal managers must comply with the provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. They must promptly end overfishing. They must rebuild overfished stocks within a pre-established time. And all of their management measures must be based on the best available science.
But state mangers must do none of those things.
Instead, as the Louisiana red snapper saga illustrates so very well, state management efforts are, more often than not, politically driven, and just a few individuals, or representatives of just a few organizations, can have a disproportionate impact on how a fish belonging to every citizen of the state is managed.
And when an administration changes, fisheries policy can often change as well.
That’s not the way to manage anything, much less a public resource. Management must be consistent over the long haul, and guarantee abundance well into the future.
And when it comes to that sort of management, the states just can’t do the job half as well as the feds.