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Entries in Louisiana (31)

Thursday
Jan282016

Gulf States Should Manage Gulf Red Snapper Fishery

Under this administration, recreational fishing for red snapper in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico has been diminished to a fraction of what it once was, as the feds have turned over more and more of it to a few commercial operations.

It's time for a change. The Gulf states have better data regarding the health of the fishery and are for more likely to manage based on science than politics. That's why HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act, needs to be passed by Congress. Here's what its sponsor, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, has to say:   

As Ben Raines’ weekend article in the Times Picayune and AL.com illuminated, the federal government has hand-picked dozens of multi-millionaire “Sea Lords” by allowing them to control the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. While these select few “Sea Lords” are making millions from our fish, the season for recreational anglers – who used to be able to fish for red snapper all year long – has been absurdly diminished. In 2015, the recreational red snapper season was 10 days.

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As it stands today, the right to catch 77 percent of the annual red snapper harvest is controlled by just 55 people, according to an AL.com analysis of hundreds of pages of federal documents, reports and websites--- AL.com

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The agency charged with managing our national fishery, the National Marine Fisheries Service, conducted a study on the health of red snapper fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll be shocked to learn that federal government’s methodology and results were grossly inadequate.

Their analysis failed to include reef areas – the actual habitat of red snapper, a reef fish. Think about that. It’s like looking for polar bears in Louisiana, finding none, and declaring the population to be at risk of extinction.

Let me be clear, the sustainability of our fisheries is paramount. It is critical that we employ the best science to responsibly manage them and to support their long-term viability.  It’s no secret that Louisiana is home to some of the nation's top restaurants that rely on the supply of fresh, wild seafood to meet demand. Some argue that expanding recreational access would lead to overfishing and threaten commercial interests.

This mentality has bred the current system of a government sanctioned oligarchy that monopolizes a public resource. And it has punished tens of thousands of families across the Gulf Coast that enjoy fishing in Sportsman’s Paradise. Luckily, there is another way.

In July of last year, I introduced HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill simply gives the five Gulf states’ wildlife departments the authority to manage the red snapper that live offshore their coast. This approach favors local control and would transfer management decisions to the professionals who are closest to the fishery.

In Louisiana for example, our Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has demonstrated a commitment to using the best science to sustainably manage our fisheries through efforts like the agency's LA Creel program, which helps to provide an accurate count of red snapper fish stocks in our coastal waters. Today, HR 3094 has nearly 30 bipartisan sponsors from across the nation.

The fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are public property and should be enjoyed by all - not managed like a long-abandoned "sharecropper" model that enriches a select few.  Sometimes all it takes is a little sunshine on bad policy to fix things.  To quote Herbert Hoover, “all men are equal before fish.”  Let's enact HR 3094 so we can ALL enjoy the Gulf's bounty.

 

Sunday
Sep272015

Gulf Red Snapper Fishing at Stake in Pending Lawsuit

There’s a lawsuit pending in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans that every recreational angler ought to be following like a hawk.
 
The case will decide whether public wildlife resources that rightly belong to all of us will instead be funneled into fewer and fewer hands -- and whether federal waters can be effectively walled off to private recreational anglers for the advantage of a tiny group of politically influential special interests.
 
NOAA Fisheries calls it “Amendment 40,” but it ought to be known as “Privatization 70,” because that’s what it does: if this scheme is allowed to stand, commercial fishing and charter boats will be handed a monopoly over more than 70 percent of the Gulf red snapper fishery, while recreational anglers are forced to watch from the docks.
 
Dysfunctional federal management has already resulted in a 10-day red snapper season these last two summers, down from 44 days the year before.
 
But it’s not just recreational anglers who are being short-changed.  More than 16,000 Americans owe their jobs to bait and tackle shops alone -- and that’s not even counting the big-box stores and chain retailers.  Altogether, the independent bait shops alone generate more than $796 million annually in payroll.
 
A red snapper season of just one weekend a year wreaks havoc on the Gulf economy, as everything from gas stations and motels to restaurants and tackle shops feels the impact. Unfortunately, nobody from NOAA took the time to evaluate the economic aftershocks.

What’s behind Amendment 40?  A lot of clever lawyering by the Environmental Defense Fund and their shill operations in the Gulf.  The unholy alliance: 387 commercial fishing operators; a handful of charter/for-hire operators, and a bunch of professional environmental lobbyists in Washington, D.C.  Coastal Conservation Association highlights the united front standing against us.
 
The white hats are fighting Amendment 40 in the U.S. District Court, and the State of Louisiana has recently weighed in with its support, filing an amicus brief in support of our position. 
 
A lot is at stake.  Stay tuned.  

From the Coastal Conservation Association 

Monday
Aug172015

Citizens Must Be Voice for Fish and Wildlife in Gulf Restoration

Less than five years after the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, BP has agreed to pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages for its role. This stands in stark contrast to the decades-long litigation following the Exxon Valdez spill, and is great news not only for those who live along the Gulf Mexico, but for all of us who recognize the ecological, recreational, and economic value of this region to the nation.

Much of our seafood comes from there. Millions of us visit the five Gulf states annually to fish and enjoy other outdoor pursuits. And if you live in the Midwest or Great Plains, the waterfowl hunting that you enjoy annually is  dependent on healthy and abundant marshes and wetlands along the Gulf Coast, where 70 percent of waterfowl from the Central and Mississippi Flyways stopover or winter annually.

Now that we have an amount for what it likely the largest environmental settlement in history, it's important that plans and projects be implemented wisely and effectively. The federal RESTORE Act of 2012 will ensure that 80 percent of any Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties paid by BP and other companies responsible for the disaster goes to the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. That means each of the Gulf states will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to implement recovery plans, starting with Pot 1 for wildlife habitat restoration and improvement of water quality. This category also provides for “job creation” and “infrastructure projects,” which could allow expenditures that sound good but that won’t help the Gulf.

That's why it will be important for citizens along the Gulf to be a voice for fish and wildlife. They must tell their governors and state legislators that they want the money spent on projects such as restoring wetlands, sea grasses, and barrier islands, as well as ensuring adequate freshwater flows, which are important for sustaining healthy spawning and nursery habitat for fish and wintering areas for ducks and geese.

Vanishing Paradise looks forward to working with federal and state officials and the RESTORE Council to make sure that the BP funds go to meaningful, comprehensive restoration.

And as this work begins, we should remember that we still don't know the true extent of the damage caused by an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil pouring onto the ocean floor. Years and possibly even decades will be required to determine population level impacts to species.

What we do know is that an estimated one million birds died from exposure to the oil, as well as large numbers of dolphins and sea turtles. We also know that cleanup crews removed 106,465 tons of "oily material" from Gulf shorelines by the end of 2013. And BP reports that it already had spent $14 billion and 70 million personnel hours on cleanup and response by that time.

With direction as provided by the RESTORE Act and watchful oversight from those of us who want the best for Gulf Coast fish and wildlife, it now will spend an additional $18.7 billion.

Monday
Jul062015

BP to Pay $18.7 Billion for Gulf Oil Spill

BP will pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages for its role in the largest oil spill in U.S. history, which polluted the Gulf of Mexico five years ago.

“Today‘s settlement moves the wildlife and habitat of the Gulf Coast forward on the road to recovery. It’s time to look ahead to the future and work toward getting real, on-the-ground restoration projects done," said Steve Bender, director of Vanishing Paradise, a coalition of more than 800 sportsman and outdoors groups, organizations and businesses working on Gulf Coast and Mississippi river Delta restoration.

“Because Congress passed the RESTORE Act in 2012, 80 percent of the money BP pays as a result of the Clean Water Act penalty will be returned to the Gulf Coast for much needed restoration and to improve the region’s long-term resiliency. Repairing the ongoing damage from the oil spill is also of utmost importance going forward, and the settlement dollars BP pays through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment will help the areas devastated by the spill – including habitat that supports world-class hunting and fishing."

The Gulf Coast region is an ecological and economic driver for the entire nation, and sportsmen and women care about ensuring this national treasure is restored for future generations to enjoy. With as many as 14 million waterfowl migrating to the Gulf’s warm shores annually, and salt and freshwater fishing unlike anywhere else on the planet, we must make sure this entire region – including the endangered Mississippi River Delta – is on the path forward to long-term health and recovery. We look forward to working with federal and state officials and the RESTORE Council to make sure every dime of oil disaster money goes to meaningful, comprehensive restoration.”

Background

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved.

A recent infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster five years later. And over the past year alone, new scientific research has surfaced:

A 2014 study found evidence of a 1,250-square-mile area of oil contamination on the ocean floor around the Macondo wellhead in deep Gulf sediments.

A previous NOAA study found a large number of dead dolphins in heavily oiled places, including Barataria Bay, La.

Recent studies estimate 1,000,000 birds died as a result of being exposed to BP oil.

Modeling for a recent stock assessment projected that between 20,000 and 60,000 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles died in 2010 as a result of the spill.

A 2014 study found concentrations of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) – which can cause harmful effects in many birds, fish and wildlife – in Barataria and Terrebonne marshes, which may persist for decades.

A 2012 study found that oiled marshes in Barataria Bay eroded at double the rate of non-oiled marshes.

A recent survey found that 70 percent of Americans believe BP should pay maximum fines under the Clean Water Act for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

VP has identified 19 projects from Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast that have the greatest potential to restore our coast. 

Wednesday
Dec172014

Vanishing Paradise Champions Gulf Coast Restoration

The Gulf Coast was imperiled even before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.  

That’s because erosion and saltwater intrusion are destroying wetlands and marshes in the Mississippi River Delta and have been for decades, mostly because of manmade alterations and degradations. In 2009, that realization prompted the National Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited to unite to awaken Congress and the nation to the crisis through the Vanishing Paradise (VP) coalition.

As a result of that serendipitous timing, fish, waterfowl, sportsmen, and coastal communities have a champion in their corner today as BP pays billions for damage inflicted upon the Gulf. With more than 800 fishing and hunting businesses and organizations supporting its mission, VP wants that money used to restore and enhance those wetlands and marshes, as well as mitigate the environmental damage done by the oil spill all along the coast.

“We engaged heavily to get anglers and hunters to Washington, D.C. to talk to their legislators and help pass important legislation,” said Steve Bender, VP director. “And it worked. We delivered the RESTORE Act.”

A volunteer Advisory Council and Conservation Pro Staff deserve much of the credit not only for passage of the act but for promoting the campaign and educating the public about the coastal crisis, he added.

The 2011 RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act allocates a portion of the funds equally to the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic recovery, and establishes the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to develop and fund a plan for recovery. It also establishes an endowment that includes funding for fisheries stock assessments and ecosystem monitoring.

“Since then, we’ve been focusing on restoration,” Bender continued. “We’ve been asked to expand our scope (from the Delta) into the Gulf.

“Louisiana already had a master plan. And now that other states are receiving dollars, we are working on getting that money spent on coastal recovery and economic restoration. We have policy specialists in those states, and we’re going to expand angler and hunter outreach.”

Ground Zero for protection and restoration work, however, remains the Delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Louisiana’s coast. This vast wetlands area is critical as spawning and nursery grounds for fish and overwintering habitat for much of the nation’s waterfowl. And since the 1930s, an estimated 1,880 square miles of habitat has been lost.

“Given the importance of so many of south Louisiana’s natural assets --- its waterways, natural resources, and unique culture, and wetlands --- this land loss crisis is nothing short of a national emergency, one that takes a daily toll on the lives of coastal residents,” said the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which developed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

In Louisiana, what it all boils down to is trying to stop the destruction and implement a system that mimics, as much as possible,  the natural process interrupted by development --- a system that will restore wetlands and marshes for fish and wildlife, while providing protection for coastal communities from saltwater intrusion.

Why is this needed? The reasons are many, according to VP, but one of the most significant is that the Mississippi River “has been straitjacketed with huge levees as part of a national program to ‘control’ the river and protect communities and economic infrastructure from flooding.”

But wetlands were built and sustained by sediment delivered by the river, and cutting them off with levees stopped new growth, allowing for saltwater intrusion that kills them.

“Without land-building deposits from the river, the Delta is doomed to continue sinking beneath the water, endangering the people, wildlife, and jobs that depend on these healthy resources,” VP said.

According to the master plan, restoration and protection projects will focus on sediment diversion, marsh creation, bank stabilization, structural and shoreline protection, and hydrologic, barrier island, and ridge restoration. Unfortunately,  proposed diversions have generated opposition from some, who otherwise support the plan. That’s because sediment-carrying sediment, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

It’s easy to understand their point of view: They don’t want to surrender any of their fishing grounds, including those created by man’s interference with a natural system. But such a view is short-sighted, since the continued health of both freshwater and saltwater fisheries is dependent on freshwater and sediment. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, along with bass and catfish.

“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” explained Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.

Every year, he cautioned, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, explained Ryan Lambert, a VP supporter and owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. On the west side, which receives little to no freshwater, only open water and dead marsh grass remains. On the east side, where freshwater flows, the wetlands are alive and thriving.

In that area, he added, “bass fishermen and redfish fishermen go to the same place to catch fish. From Buras down to the mouth of the Mississippi is the best fishing in North America.

“You can’t just pump in sediment,” he said. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

Lambert pointed out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because diversion flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he said. “There are no bass, no brim, no crappie, no catfish, and no duck habitat. And it’s all because they want to grow oysters there.”

As work goes forward, Bender emphasized that the master plan is not just about diversion and VP wants to work with all stakeholders, including those who oppose that aspect. “We want to limit the impacts on folks who might be hurt,” he said. “We need to find a way to work together.

“But we also feel strongly that you have to let the river do what it does naturally.

“Gov. (Bobby) Jindal has been very supportive of restoration, and we’re hoping that the new governor coming in will be the same,” Bender said. “We have more partnerships on the horizon and a new campaign coming up in Louisiana soon.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer.)