Louisiana, Florida Battle Feds over Red Snapper Restrictions

Published April 29, 2014

Louisiana and Florida wildlife officials are battling the federal government over one of the most popular fish on seafood restaurants’ menus. The Gulf Coast states say federal regulators are placing unnecessarily onerous restrictions on red snapper fishing.

New Restrictions Imposed
On April 10 the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council announced it is limiting the recreational red snapper season to 11 days in federal waters. Within hours of the decision, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) announced it is extending the red snapper season in state waters until the end of the year or until LDWF Secretary Robert Barham closes the fishing season. Louisiana officials said the bag and possession limit for the state season remains remains two fish per person at a 16-inch minimum length.   

Longstanding Controversies
A controversial ruling by a federal court sparked the latest flare-up in the long-simmering feud between the Gulf Council, an arm of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Louisiana wildlife officials. In late March a federal judge ruled in favor of commercial red snapper fishermen in a suit the industry brought last June. The judge ruled NOAA Fisheries, the agency that regulates red snapper harvest, had not held the recreational sector sufficiently accountable for exceeding its quota for six of the past seven years.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council announced its new restrictions on the recreational fishing season after the federal court decision.

Adding fuel to the fire is a dispute between federal officials and Louisiana over what constitutes the state’s coastal waters. Louisiana claims waters out to three marine leagues, or 10.357 miles, the same distance the federal government recognizes as state waters for Texas and the west coast of Florida. But for Louisiana, the feds say the state limit is only three miles. The dispute is important because it leaves unclear where Louisiana’s anglers can legally fish for red snapper or any other fish. The federal government has ordered the U.S. Coast Guard to intercept anglers fishing in disputed waters and issue citations.

Florida Adds Its Voice
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) joined Louisiana in expressing disappointment in federal red snapper management. Scott sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, saying he was “very disappointed in the federal government’s management of the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.” 

Scott called for a complete overhaul of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation’s leading fisheries law. 

U.S. Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have indicated they may cosponsor legislation addressing the fishery problems outlined in Scott’s letter. 

Calls for State Solutions
“The red snapper controversy reveals a complete breakdown in the federal government’s attempt to micromanage fisheries in waters as diverse as what the United States possesses,” said Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.

“Reducing the federal role in fisheries, and reducing it substantially, should be at the center of any legislation aimed at eliminating Washington’s mismanagement of our fisheries,” Rucker explained.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.