Opposition to H.R. 3099, the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act

Chairman Hastings and Ranking Member DeFazio, Committee on Natural Resources, U.S. House of Representative – In Opposition to H.R. 3099, the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act

December 11, 2013

The Honorable Doc HastingsChairmanCommittee on Natural ResourcesU.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Peter DeFazioRanking MemberCommittee on Natural ResourcesU.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Hastings and Ranking Member DeFazio,

As representatives of the seafood community from across all five Gulf coast states, we are writing to express our opposition to H.R. 3099, the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act.  While introduced with the best intentions, this legislation will negatively impact the red snapper harvesting community, the broader seafood supply chain and consumers across the country who depend on a healthy commercial harvest of this popular seafood item.

Red snapper is an iconic American favorite sought after by consumers along the Gulf coast and beyond. Seafood sales, including red snapper, are one of the biggest drivers of the important tourism industries in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Recent consumer surveys indicate that tourists closely identify the delicious and mild flavor of red snapper with the American Gulf coast – a region still struggling to recover lost seafood sales and tourism dollars in the wake of the 2010 oil spill.

While there are challenges facing the recreational red snapper industry, the current management of the commercial red snapper fishery is working. The most recent stock assessment indicates that red snapper is no longer undergoing overfishing and the stock is rebuilding ahead of schedule. This is due in large part to the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program implemented for the harvest sector by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (Gulf Council) in 2007. This program reduced the number of vessels and improved the operation of the fishery. The IFQ program provides the commercial community with flexibility to fish during times that suit their needs and the needs of the market resulting in less pressure on the fishery, less pressure on the resource, and an end to the unsafe derby-style fishing that was taking place.

While management of the commercial red snapper fishery is working, the recreational sector faces serious challenges as evidenced by the fact that the recreational quota has been exceeded 9 of the last 17 years. The “days at sea” management approach for the recreational sector remains highly controversial with fishery managers drastically reducing fishing days in recent years leading to serious economic implications for the Gulf coast.

In an effort to address these issues, H.R. 3099 would move responsibility for red snapper management to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (the Commission) with the goal of increasing the role of the states in management. Unfortunately, this solution threatens to upset the successful IFQ process governed by the Gulf Council that is working favorably for those dependent on seafood provided by the harvesting sector.  In addition, H.R. 3099 would strip the conservation and accountability requirements governed by the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). States may not have the infrastructure, either financial or personnel, to conduct research, collect data, and manage and enforce similar regulations needed to protect this important resource.

Finally, we are deeply concerned with a provision in the bill that would allow for the reduction of commercial red snapper quota. Under MSA, fishery management plans must allocate fishing privileges in a fair and equitable manner that ensures no particular individual or entity acquires excessive shares of such privileges. It is this principle that supports granting 49% of the Gulf red snapper allocation to the recreational sector and 51% to the harvesting sector. This is a critical species for our industry since the Gulf’s recreational fishermen already take home 80% of the most popular fish in the Gulf, including overwhelming majorities of amberjack, red drum, speckled trout, king mackerel and triggerfish. The current allocation of red snapper quota is imperative to ensure that the commercial harvesting community, and thus the consuming public, continues to hold a fair share of the resource.

As the Committee works to address challenges facing the recreational red snapper fishery in the Gulf, we strongly encourage you to consider the negative impacts of H.R. 3099 on the seafood community and consumers. Please feel free to contact us through our acting Chairman, Harlon Pearce, at 504-382-9805 or nolrah@aol.com and we look forward to working with you on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Harlon Pearce
Acting Chairman

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