Major conservation groups filed a lawsuit Monday against the Trump administration arguing a June decision to extend the private angler fishing season for red snapper will lead to overfishing and violates the law.
The federal agency charged with overseeing fisheries management violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act when it extended the red snapper fishing season for private anglers this summer, conservation groups, Environmental Defense Fund, Ocean Conservancy and Earthjustice argued in a suit filed Monday.
The groups filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. against the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The oceanic administration and fisheries services are under the umbrella of the commerce department.
The commerce department on June 14 issued a temporary rule extending the red snapper season for private anglers by 39 days by opening the season on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning in June and running through Sept. 4.
Congressional leaders from Gulf states had lobbied for the change after outcry over this year’s three-day recreational red snapper season, which ran from June 1-3. The short federal season was imposed by regulators as a way to manage the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The way we manage recreational red snapper fishing stinks, and saltwater anglers like me are demanding change,” said Robert Jones, director of the Gulf of Mexico Oceans program for the Environmental Defense Fund.
But the decision ignored science, encouraged overfishing and failed to follow the proper procedures set by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, according to the lawsuit.
“I sure as heck don’t want to return to the days when my dad and I could barely find a red snapper due to decades of overfishing,” Jones said.
The department of commerce also violated the act by issuing the rule without giving notice to the public or allowing time for public comment and without conducting an environmental analysis on its effect, the lawsuit asserts.
“If the government decides its easier to cut political deals than it is to do the hard work of management, fisheries around the nation are going to suffer,” said Andrea Treece, an attorney for Earthjustice.
The U.S. Department of Commerce did not respond to a request for comment.
The groups want the lawsuit to be a catalyst for change and to prompt reform of the private angler fishing season with science-based solutions that give flexible access.
The groups are also asking the court to declare the fisheries service violated the law and to throw out the temporary rule, the lawsuit said.
Data indicates by extending the season 39 days this summer, the rebuilding efforts for red snapper fisheries could be set back as much as six years, said Chris Dorsett, vice president of conservation policy for Ocean Conservancy.
The Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper fishery suffered from decades of overfishing until the federal government started making changes to the system in the 1990s, experts have said.
The oceanic administration and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council made changes to the system that have led to the most abundant red snapper stock in years, which is a testament to how well the rebuilding plan is working in some areas, the groups said.
The biggest changes came in 2007, when the oceanic administration implemented a new individual fishing quota system for commercial anglers.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council sets the catch limits each year based on federal data collected about the red snapper fishery. It also allocates a portion of that catch to the two sectors, commercial and recreational. In 2016, the commercial sector had 49.5 percent, while the recreational sector had 51.5 percent.
The time-frame for rebuilding the red snapper population is about 31 years, Dorsett said.
“Backsliding now undercuts the hard-work and sacrifice stakeholders have made in the process,” Dorsett said.
The current system needs to be improved, but “the decision by the Department of Commerce is reminiscent of a past error when catch limits weren’t based on science,” Dorsett said.