Monday, June 16, 2008

Red Snapper Regulations for the Gulf States: Is Alabama getting the Shaft?

In general, regional efforts to manage fisheries make a lot of sense. When the Magnuson Act was written, it did an excellent job of acknowledging that the optimal management of many fisheries cannot be relegated to an individual state's waters. While far from perfect, the act has evolved so that it has the ability to incorporate ecosystem principles into management. States tend to control waters from the shore out to 3 miles (Texas and Florida Gulf coast are exceptions) and federal waters exist from 3 miles out to 200 miles (Exclusive Economic Zone ). Federal fisheries management actions are determined by Regional Fisheries Management Councils and then enforced by the NMFS. Of course NMFS has many other roles as well, including monitoring and research. Individual states are responsible for managing and enforcing their own waters.

One interesting issue related to state management of fisheries is how actions (or inaction) by individual states may inevitably harm adjacent states. The Press-Register in Alabama has an interesting article discussing how the Florida and Texas management of red snapper has potentially penalized Alabama.

While on an offshore fishing trip Friday, Gov. Bob Riley vowed to fight what he characterized as unfair federal management of red snapper stocks in the Gulf of Mexico that is hurting Alabama anglers and the charter fishing fleet.

Riley said he is concerned about the National Marine Fisheries Service's decision not to directly penalize Florida and Texas despite those states' decisions not to adopt federal snapper management regulations in their state waters for the past two years.

When the NMFS reduced the red snapper bag limit to two fish per person per day last year, Florida, Texas and Alabama decided instead to maintain state daily bag limits at four fish.

With its 3-mile state waters, Alabama's decision did not have much of an impact in terms of total catch. But with 9-mile state boundaries in the other two states, red snapper structure like wrecks, reefs and natural bottoms were within reach of fishermen in Florida and Texas.

Alabama complied with federal regulations this year, but Florida and Texas again did not. Both decided to reduce their state red snapper bag limit to two fish per person this year, but maintained the April 15 through Oct. 31 season length.

This leads to an interesting question: What is the real incentive for a state like Alabama, which has a relatively small coastline, to comply with this reduction in season length when much larger adjacent states do not? Relatively speaking, Alabama has a very small impact on total catch in the Gulf. I have not had an opportunity to look at any estimates, but there is no doubt that this will have some type of negative economic impact on the state. With a coastline as small as Alabama, anglers can just travel to near-by states.

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