Under federal fisheries management, red snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico are recovering and the boating and fishing industries have grown. But on Thursday, a U.S. Senate committee will hear a proposal that could gut a decade of recovery and growth for both. The idea floated by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., would create a piecemeal system by extending the state waters of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi from 3 miles to 9. In addition, his plan would loosen some of the stronger tenets of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act — like science-based rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits.
The other gulf states' gains would be Florida's loss, particularly for anglers in the Tampa Bay area who must travel at least 30 miles offshore to find 60-foot waters where the red snapper population flourishes. In effect, those other three states' extensions would create enough extra state-water fishing pressure that the stock's rebound would be imperiled. To keep the fish populations from plunging, the government would have to severely limit the number of days for fishing in federal waters. As a practical matter, Florida fishermen would have far fewer days to catch snapper.
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