U.S. Representative Jo Bonner, R-Alabama, has introduced legislation to extend the state water boundaries of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, affording the states greater control over reef fisheries and effectively opening up more Gulf waters to fishing.
"The status quo of 27-day fishing seasons with two-fish-a-day limits is absolutely unacceptable. The Gulf Fisheries Fairness Act will provide Alabama and the other Gulf states the authority to manage local fisheries, and our fishermen and tourism industry will gain a life-line they so desperately need," said Rep. Jo Bonner, the bill's chief sponsor.
"The current one-size-fits-all reef fish management policy in place in the Gulf is antiquated and doesn't accurately reflect decades' worth of reef management policies implemented by our states," Rep. Bonner added. "Under current law, if federal regulations for Gulf reef fish are more restrictive than state regulations, federal fishing permit holders must comply with federal regulations regardless of where the fish are harvested. This has forced ridiculously onerous federal restrictions on Gulf fishing, including an unworkable 27-day Red Snapper season this year that will put many charter fishermen out of business and eliminate access to this bountiful resource for recreational anglers."
The Gulf Fisheries Fairness Act resets the state water boundaries for the purposes of reef fish management for all five Gulf states to an average depth of 20 fathoms (120 feet) or nine nautical miles, whichever is farthest. At present, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi have three mile boundaries, while Florida and Texas are set at nine miles.
In recent years, fishermen in the Gulf have been subjected to increasingly stringent regulation by the federal government that is unnecessarily threatening the local economy. At the same time, empirical data and anecdotal evidence show the Red Snapper fishery is as healthy as it has ever been.
This week, Dr. Robert Shipp, three-time chair of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, noted researcher and professor of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama, testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee that the current management of reef species in the Gulf of Mexico is failing -- both the fish and the fishermen. Dr. Shipp also voiced support for the concept of increasing Gulf states' fishery management authority.
Several Gulf Coast lawmakers have already pledged their support for the "Gulf Fisheries Fairness Act" to Rep. Bonner.