Offshore extension bill dovetails into red snapper issue

04 10, 2013 by Daily Comet

The Bayou State's junior senator has introduced the Offshore Fairness Act to extend Louisiana's jurisdiction in the Gulf of Mexico and solidify the state's position on the management of the red snapper fishery.

The proposal from Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, would also apply to other coastal states stretching from Louisiana to Virginia.

If successful, Vitter's bill would push the boundary from three miles to roughly 10 miles.

That is already the case for eastern Florida and Texas, which already have jurisdiction over three marine leagues, the equivalent of 10.36 miles.

Vitter's bill would give the same rights and privileges to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, western Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

“The bill doesn't only grant states' rights to energy resources with additional property rights, it also gives them exclusive fishery management authority over reef fish within the new boundary,” Vitter said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is expected to soon introduce a similar version of the boundary proposal in the House.

Vitter referred to it as a “companion bill.”

Cassidy represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes northern Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

While the idea of additional revenue through newly acquired Gulf energy prospects might be attractive to the state, Vitter's and Cassidy's bills touch upon another sticky topic.

The planned bills bring Louisiana's congressional delegation into the red snapper debate that has been simmering chiefly on the state level over the past couple years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has incrementally been shrinking Louisiana's recreational red snapper seasons from 194 days in 2004 to just nine for 2013.

NOAA is tasked with conducting scientifically based fishery stock assessments, which have been under fire in Louisiana.

Recreational groups, anglers, charter boat captains and lawmakers argue the Gulf red snapper stocks are strong enough to support more fishing, despite the shorter seasons ordered up by the federal government.

Additionally, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham recently asked the federal government to allow the state to take over management of the red snapper fishery but was denied.

In defiance, the state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission created a Louisiana-only recreational red snapper season, which kicked off March 23.

The weekend-only season contradicts federal regulations and will come to a close Sept. 30.

It has a recreational bag limit of three fish per day at a 16-inch minimum.

Texas has its own red snapper regulations as well.

Given the federal government's “abysmal management of the red snapper fishery,” Vitter said he wanted to make sure his bill extended jurisdiction of that resource as well — up to 200 miles off the states' coasts.

“Allowing these coastal states to regulate their own natural and commercial offshore resources in the extended jurisdiction will help alleviate financial troubles and allow a much more local approach,” Vitter said.

His bill would put the states in charge of red snapper management until each state's governor certifies that NOAA's stock assessments are “complete and based on sound science.”

Vitter has been pushing some version of the Offshore Fairness Act for the past several years, sometimes pairing up with Democrats for a bipartisan approach.

Away from Capitol Hill and in the Legislature, which convened its regular session Monday, state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, is trying to bring attention to the issue with Senate Bill 157.

The proposal would prohibit the harvest, sale and transportation of red snapper in Louisiana waters.

“I couldn't imagine not having this resource available for future generations of Louisianans, and I will do everything in my power to restore the snapper fisheries as soon as possible for everyone to enjoy,” he said before the session started.