Court closes door on repeat of illegal Gulf red snapper season

Agreement to keep court oversight is reached in lawsuit against Department of Commerce

The following statements were issued by Ocean Conservancy’s Chris Dorsett, Environmental Defense Fund’s Robert E. Jones, and Earthjustice’s Andrea A. Treece in response to Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s decision to issue a stay in their lawsuit against the Department of Commerce. Ocean Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in the District Court of D.C. against the Department of Commerce for its decision to illegally extend the 2017 private recreational red snapper fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico.

Chris Dorsett, Vice President of Conservation Policy and Programs, Ocean Conservancy:

“America’s fisheries need to stay on the path to recovery – benefitting fishermen and coastal communities across the country.  Ocean Conservancy filed this lawsuit to ensure we stay on this path, and that we don’t slide back into the bad old days of allowing overfishing on important stocks like red snapper. The decision by the judge to maintain jurisdiction over the recreational red snapper season for 2018 is an important step in ensuring that future management decisions are focused on sustainability and accountability, for the benefit of both the fish and fishermen.

“Hard work, sacrifice and good decisions have helped restore red snapper and bring stability to fishing-dependent businesses, but we’re only halfway through the rebuilding plan. The Department of Commerce must commit to managing fairly and accountably for all fishermen, and return to making science-based decisions that deliver healthy fisheries for the benefit of fishermen and coastal communities. Commerce needs to focus on rebuilding trust with stakeholders after this short-sighted decision. Under this stay, we will continue working with fishermen and other stakeholders to explore innovative management and data collection solutions while ensuring that Gulf red snapper is rebuilt on time and kept healthy for generations of fishermen to come.”

Robert E. Jones, Director, Gulf of Mexico Oceans Program, Environmental Defense Fund:

“This is an important outcome for the future of the Gulf’s red snapper fishery and the coastal communities that depend on it. The federal government has asserted before the Court that it will not illegally extend the season again, so now we can get back to work fixing the issues that cause short and inconsistent seasons for recreational anglers.  At the same time, the stay leaves the Court as a guardian to watch for any further illegal actions so the case can be reinvigorated to prevent overfishing and ensure rebuilding stays on track.

“We want to see broken recreational management fixed in a way that promotes flexible access for anglers while protecting the balance amongst all user groups. Solutions must include safeguards that adhere to the best available science and prevent overfishing because I do not want to return to the days of my childhood in Corpus Christi when we could barely find red snapper to catch. We have come too far to throw all of this progress out the window.”

Andrea A. Treece, Staff Attorney, Oceans Programs, Earthjustice:

“The Department of Commerce essentially conceded the illegality of its actions by failing to defend the case on the merits. With judicial oversight, this action won’t be repeated next year – Commerce is now on notice that it cannot play fast and loose with the future of our fisheries. We will be watching Commerce’s actions carefully to make sure they respect the law and make fishery management decisions based on science—in this fishery and others around the country.”

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