Gulf Fishery Management Council on noncompliance

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MOBILE, Alabama – In a major policy shift, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved an emergency rule giving the National Marine Fisheries Service Regional Director greater power to deal with states that chose not to comply with federal regulations in their state water.
The emergency measure allows NMFS Regional Director Roy Crabtree to close red snapper season in federal water off state water where state marine resources officials have chosen not to follow federal daily bag limits and/or season dates if it is determined that those state catches could cause the federal season to close early.
Crabtree said, outside of unexpected circumstances, the emergency rule will help ensure that states in compliance with federal regulations will not suffer an in-season closure of the recreational red snapper season for reasons not of their own doing.
In several instances over the last decade, states that have kept their regulations in compliance were penalized when federal regulators closed red snapper season early in federal waters of the entire Gulf of Mexico because of anticipated increased catch from state water.
In 2007, Florida and Texas had red snapper seasons and bag limits that did not comply with federal regulations. The recreational sector was estimated to have over-caught its quota by nearly 2 million pounds.
As a result, the 2008 federal season was 54 days shorter and the daily bag limit was reduced from four to two fish and captain and crew bag limits on for-hire boats were eliminated.
Texas maintained its year-round season and four-fish bag limit that year. Even though Florida did comply with the new daily bag limits, it maintained a season that ran from April 15 through Oct. 31.
By mid-summer 2008, NMFS issued an emergency rule indicating that, because of anticipated increased catch caused by state non-compliance, the season would close on Aug. 15 Gulfwide.
If the emergency rule passed Friday had been in effect six years ago, Crabtree could have closed only federal water off Florida and Texas, while fishermen in the other states could have continued to fish.
Crabtree estimated that if Texas and Louisiana were to be in non-compliance this year as they had already announced they would be, the red snapper season in federal water could be as short as 12 days.
Several council members also noted that if Florida were to choose to have its own red snapper season in its 9-mile state water there likely would not be a federal season at all because the entire recreational quota would most likely be caught in state waters before the federal season opened as scheduled on June 1.
The emergency rule does not forbid any state from managing its state waters how it sees fit. It simply outlines what could happen of state managers chose not to comply with federal daily bag limits and season lengths.
The emergency rule motion actually failed when the council voted on it the first time before lunch. When the council reconvened, Larry Abele of Florida asked that the measure be reconsidered, and the majority of council members agreed.
After additional discussion, Abele and his colleague from Florida Dr. Pam Dana changed their initial “No” votes to approve the emergency rule. Martha Bademan, who represents the Florida Marine Resources Commission on the council, voted no both times.
Abele said he voted no initially because he thought he was helping small business people in charter-boat operators, but during the lunch break, "three small business people came up and told me I wasn't helping them at all, so I changed my vote."
Dana would not comment on the record.
Crabtree said he thought the council made a good decision.
"Considering where we are right now, I think it was the fair and equitable thing to do,” he said.
He said he did not speak to the Florida representatives during the lunch break about their vote and did not know what changed their minds.
Orange Beach charter captain Ben Fairey agreed that the council did the right thing.
“After some soul-searching and in the attitude of all fairness, they had to reconsider this because it is absolutely unfair to states that have been compliant to suffer loss of fishing opportunities because of states that have chosen to ignore federal regulations,” Fairey said.
Alabama’s delegation on the council, charter captain Johnny Greene, the state’s chief marine biologist Kevin Anson and Dr. Bob Shipp voted in favor of the emergency rule in both instances.
“We feel that the emergency rule will help protect the fishermen in Alabama and should give us an opportunity this year to really work on regional management,” said Alabama Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship. “We’re still not happy with 27 days, but it’s better than the 12 days we would have had if Louisiana and Texas are in non-compliance.”
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II Chronicles 7:14
if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.


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