The Congressional Omnibus Appropriations bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015, includes a provision to extend Alabama’s state waters from 3 miles to 9 miles. The bill includes additional provisions that attempt to address the ongoing Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery mismanagement that has resulted in abbreviated nine and 10-day seasons for private sector recreational anglers the last two years. The red snapper provisions in the bill were authored by Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). 

Through its Marine Resources Division, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has worked diligently over the last several years with the Alabama congressional delegation and the Alabama State Legislature to enact legislation to improve red snapper management and increase angler access to this valuable fishery resource.

“Red snapper is the most economically important fishery for coastal Alabama. The extension of our state waters from 3 to 9 miles and the third-party stock assessment for red snapper that includes information from artificial reefs should go a long way in changing the dynamic of red snapper management and should lead to more days of fishing opportunities for Alabama anglers,” said Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy, Jr. “Alabama has the best artificial reef system and the best red snapper fishery in the country. I appreciate Senator Shelby’s stalwart efforts on this, and I appreciate the continued work of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division in keeping this vital issue in the forefront both in Alabama and in Washington.”

Orange Beach is known as the “Red Snapper Capital of the World” due to the importance of that one fishery to the charter fleet and tourism industry. Every additional day that that fishery is open for harvest means millions of dollars to the economies of Mobile and Baldwin counties. The need for improved red snapper management dominates the fishery discussions in Alabama because a vibrant and accessible red snapper fishery means so much to its coast.

“I would like to thank Senator Shelby for his leadership on this issue and his support of the Department of Conservation’s efforts to provide Alabama anglers with additional days to fish for red snapper and other reef fish in Gulf waters off our coast through state management of these fisheries. The provisions in this bill are a good first step toward fixing the broken red snapper management,” said Marine Resources Division Director Chris Blankenship. “We will continue to work with Senator Shelby and Congressman Bradley Byrne to make further reforms that would give the Gulf States more control of the management of the reef fish fishery.

The State of Alabama continues to work with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries to improve the data collection for the landings of red snapper. Implemented in 2014, Alabama’s Snapper Check program is providing timely information on the red snapper landed in Alabama. In mid-December 2015, representatives of the Marine Resources Division met with NOAA Fisheries scientists and their consultants in Mobile to compare and calibrate the landings of red snapper from Alabama’s system and the federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) landings system. Future MRIP transitions were also addressed in the bill.

“The federal government’s continued mismanagement of the red snapper fishery has placed unnecessary barriers in the way of Alabama’s fishermen,” said Senator Shelby. “As we all know, the best conservationists are oftentimes the ones who depend on this fishery the most – charter and recreational anglers.

“That is why I have pushed for commonsense reforms in this year’s omnibus to ensure that the red snapper stocks are properly counted, that there is more local involvement in the process, and that Alabama’s state boundary lines are equitable with other states by expanding them from 3 to 9 miles,” added Senator Shelby. “I believe that these reforms are big wins for fishermen across the Gulf, and I am hopeful that it will lead to a longer, more robust red snapper season.”

Senator Shelby’s provisions affecting Red Snapper:

Fishery Boundaries: Includes bill language that extends Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana state seaward fishery boundaries from 3 miles out to 9 miles for these states to regulate red snapper and other reef fish. Currently, just Texas and Florida have boundaries out to 9 miles, and this provision makes the state fishery lines in the Gulf equitable.

Red Snapper Tagging Study: Provides up to $5 million for NOAA’s National Sea Grant College program to support external research and development through its network of academic institutions for a red snapper tagging study in the Gulf of Mexico.

Red Snapper Stock Assessment: Provides $5 million for independent, non-NOAA stock assessments for Gulf reef fish including red snapper. Directs NOAA to count fish on artificial reefs and offshore energy exploration infrastructure, incorporate those counts into future stock assessments and management decisions for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

Red Snapper Allowable Catch: Urges NOAA to provide an increased allocation of Gulf red snapper to private recreational anglers should the total allowable catch of red snapper increase above a certain threshold. This would help provide relief for recreational anglers who have been especially impacted by NOAA’s misguided regulations.

Red Snapper and the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP): Provides no funding for the full transition to the new MRIP implementation plan until NOAA fixes the stock assessment process as directed under the bill’s red snapper section. MRIP is a controversial program for estimating recreational fishery catches.