We are blessed to live in a part of the world known for our beautiful scenery, abundant natural resources, and marvelous waterways. It is easy to see why my family has not left Southwest Alabama since my great, great, great grandfather settled here in the 1780s.
A critical part of our local culture is the Gulf of Mexico, including a wide range of fish that call the Gulf home. Like so many others, my family has gone fishing in the Gulf for as long as I can remember.
Given how important fishing is to so many, I was incredibly frustrated to learn that this year’s Red Snapper season in federal waters will only be three days. That is simply not acceptable and a further indication of how poorly the federal government is managing the Red Snapper fishery.
During a recent House Oversight Committee hearing on Red Snapper, I pointed out that preliminary estimates done by the state for 2016 show a total of approximately 821 thousand pounds of Red Snapper caught in waters off of the Alabama coast. Federal estimates for the same time show approximately 2 million pounds accounted for.
Mississippi’s data shows the opposite problem. According to data from Mississippi’s Tails n’ Scales Program, almost 40,000 pounds were accounted for, yet federal data claims there were zero pounds. The system is completely broken.
Since being elected to Congress, I have made Red Snapper a top priority. We passed a bill out of the House in 2015 that would have repealed the quota system and given the Gulf states control over the data collection and stock assessments. I personally wrote and championed these provisions with the support of other Gulf Coast colleagues. While we succeeded in getting the bill out of the House, I was very disappointed the Senate failed to even take up the bill.
I want to be clear: Red Snapper is not an issue that just comes up once a year in my office. In fact, we work year round to increase awareness, build support, and push for a permanent solution. We are utilizing a strategy focused on both an administrative and legislative solution.
First, I am hopeful that under President Donald Trump we can get some relief. President Trump is a big believer in rolling back regulations and getting the government out of the way. There is no better example of big government micromanagement and failure than the Red Snapper issue.
With a new director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service, I hope we can get back to longer seasons, more local data, and a balanced system that actually works.
Second, I am going to continue working with my Gulf Coast colleagues on legislation to fix the system and get us longer seasons for recreational fishermen. Discussions are actively ongoing about a legislative solution that tackles this issue head on and gives more control to the individual Gulf states.
We did receive a bit of good news. With the help of Senator Richard Shelby, we were able to secure a permanent expansion of state waters out to nine miles Gulf-wide. In the past, some Gulf states had state waters out to nine miles while others, like Alabama, only had three miles of state waters.
Permanently expanding the state waters to nine miles for Red Snapper will provide parity among the Gulf states and give important certainty to our fishermen as they work to further build up the artificial reef system in state waters.
The fight for a longer Red Snapper season continues, and I am more emboldened than ever before to get us a solution.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.