BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - An emergency restriction on recreational red snapper fishing in federal waters unfairly penalizes citizens in three Gulf Coast states, a federal judge ruled.
By enacting an emergency rule in February, the Gulf Council of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and former acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank established shorter red snapper fishing seasons in federal waters for anglers off the coast of Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
The emergency rule gives preference to Mississippi and Alabama, which aligned the dates for their fishing seasons in state waters with the fishing season for the federally managed waters, known as the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, according to the complaint filed by their aggrieved neighbors. Texas allows for recreational red snapper fishing in its state waters year-round.
In April 2013, Texas and Louisiana sued
Blank, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NMFS, two of its officials, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They claimed violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which provides for the conservation and management of fishery resources but lets states determine their own fishing seasons for state waters.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen granted the states summary judgment Friday, on the eve of the opening of red snapper fishing season.
He described the emergency rule as tantamount to telling states, "if you do something we don't like, we will punish your citizens."
Blank and the NMFS failed to follow the correct procedure for enacting an emergency rule and discriminated against the states, according to the 25-page order.
"Not only does it violate the very wording of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, it also violates the spirit of federalism which is embodied in the act," Hanen wrote. "The discriminatory actions taken by the Secretary of Commerce and the NMFS against the anglers of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida are contrary to the dictates of the act. Further, the act envisions distinct areas of governance. States are permitted by law to govern their own water; the federal government is to control the EEZ. Both petitioners and respondents concede the only reason the secretary adopted this rule was because these states insisted upon setting different dates in their own waters."
Hanen also pointed out that "the reclamation of the red snapper population is not only on target, but that with cooperation from states, industry, and the federal government, it is an achievable goal."