WASHINGTON — It’s getting easier to snap up red snapper.
The sought-after game fish has been at the center of a years-long debate between environmentalists who want to protect the iconic species while it continues to rebuild from overfishing and recreational anglers who contend years of economically crippling restrictions have paid off and it’s time to go fishing again.
After eight years of policies under President Obama that emphasized protection, there’s now a rising tide of momentum under the Trump administration to loosen restrictions in the federal waters off the Southeastern United States. Already:
• Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in June expanded the recreational fishing season for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico from three to 42 days.
• Legislation has been reintroduced in the House and Senate to give more say over red snapper management to Gulf Coast states, which are seen as more sympathetic to recreational anglers’ interests. Such bills are likely to get a friendly reception if they reach the president’s desk.
• And next month, the agency overseeing fishing restrictions in the South Atlantic is expected to lift a years-long ban on red snapper in 2018.
All of that delights anglers who feel the Obama administration ignored their arguments that red snapper had rebounded so well they were literally “tripping over” fish.
“I feel a whole lot better today than I did a year ago,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Louisiana-based Center for Sportfishing Policy, which advocates for the recreational fishing industry.
Environmental advocates such as Holly Binns with the Pew Charitable Trust’s Tallahassee office are concerned that the steps being taken in the Gulf and the South Atlantic could endanger nearly a decade of progress rebuilding the still-threatened red snapper stocks.
“We’re concerned that in today’s political landscape there’s a bigger risk than ever that the core conservation safeguards in our nation’s laws, responsible for restoring a number of species back to health and ending sanctioned overfishing in U.S. waters, could be at risk,” she said.
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