All Men Are Equal Before Fish
How would you feel if the federal government took all of the gold in Fort Knox and gave it to a few dozen unelected, unaccountable people to decide how to manage it behind closed doors? How would you feel if that same small group unsurprisingly decided to split the country’s gold among themselves – each becoming multi-millionaires? If our government gave away the public’s property for free and allowed millionaires to be born overnight by diverting that public’s property to themselves, I’d be pretty upset – and I am.
As Ben Raines’ weekend article in the Times Picayune and AL.com illuminated, the federal government has hand-picked dozens of multi-millionaire “Sea Lords” by allowing them to control the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. While these select few “Sea Lords” are making millions from our fish, the season for recreational anglers – who used to be able to fish for red snapper all year long – has been absurdly diminished. In 2015, the recreational red snapper season was ten days.
The agency charged with managing our national fishery, the National Marine Fisheries Service, conducted a study on the health of red snapper fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll be shocked to learn that federal government’s methodology and results were grossly inadequate. Their analysis failed to include reef areas – the actual habitat of red snapper, a reef fish. Think about that. It’s like looking for polar bears in Louisiana, finding none, and declaring the population to be at risk of extinction.
Let me be clear, the sustainability of our fisheries is paramount. It is critical that we employ the best science to responsibly manage them and to support their long-term viability. It’s no secret that Louisiana is home to some of the nation's top restaurants that rely on the supply of fresh, wild seafood to meet demand. Some argue that expanding recreational access would lead to overfishing and threaten commercial interests. This mentality has bred the current system of a government sanctioned oligarchy that monopolizes a public resource. And it has punished tens of thousands of families across the Gulf Coast that enjoy fishing in Sportsman’s Paradise. Luckily, there is another way.
In July of last year, I introduced HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act in the US House of Representatives. The bill simply gives the five Gulf States’ Wildlife Departments the authority to manage the red snapper that live offshore their coast. This approach favors local control and would transfer management decisions to the professionals who are closest to the fishery. In Louisiana for example, our Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has demonstrated a commitment to using the best science to sustainability manage our fisheries through efforts like the agency's LA Creel program, which helps to provide an accurate count of red snapper fish stocks in our coastal waters. Today, HR 3094 has nearly 30 bipartisan sponsors from across the nation.
The fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are public property and should be enjoyed by all - not managed like a long-abandoned "sharecropper" model that enriches a select few. Sometimes all it takes is a little sunshine on bad policy to fix things. To quote Herbert Hoover, “all men are equal before fish.” Let's enact HR 3094 so we can ALL enjoy the Gulf's bounty.