(The Center Square) — Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit over the distribution of red grouper harvest in the Gulf of Mexico between commercial and recreational fishermen.
Commercial fishermen are suing the National Marine Fisheries Service in U.S. District Court over a rule to reallocate the Gulf red grouper quota based on updated fishing data that shows the recreational angler harvest is more than double what was previously estimated.
The final rule would increase the proportion of the red grouper harvest from 24% for recreational anglers to 40.7%, while reducing the commercial allotment from 76% of the total to 59.3%.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege federal officials can only change allocations to minimize bycatch or to specific sectors that report catch and bycatch, which could have implications for other reef species that travel between state and federal waters.
"These arguments would preclude any allocation to the recreational sector, even if based on better scientific information than was originally available, because the recreational sector inherently involves bycatch (since the goal of recreational fishing is the experience of fishing as well as the actual catching of fish) and does not directly report catch or bycatch (since this cannot practically be done for the enormous number of private anglers)," Landry wrote in a motion to intervene in support the NMFS rule.
The motion, filed Aug. 18, argues that if the court rules in favor of commercial fishermen in the case, "it would invalidate the rights of recreational fishermen under (the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) to participate in the red grouper fishery."
"Worse, a ruling crediting Plaintiffs' arguments would apply equally to red snapper and the other federally managed reef fish species in the Gulf that are migratory between federal and state waters, and thus would invalidate recreational fishermen's rights in those fisheries, as well," the motion read.
"I will continue fighting to ensure Louisiana remains 'The Sportsman's Paradise' for all who live and visit here," Landry said in a statement Tuesday. "Recreational and commercial fishing have coexisted in Louisiana for ages; we cannot allow one to be preserved at the expense of the other."
The motion contends Louisiana has a right to intervene in the lawsuit based on its constitutional duty to protect and conserve natural resources, as well as its interest in protecting tourism and other revenues generated by recreational fishing. Recreational anglers purchase supplies, boats, fuel, hotel stays, meals at restaurants, licenses, and other items that directly benefit the state, according to the motion.
"All of these activities increase tourism revenues for Louisiana's residents, bolster the economy, and generate sales and other tax revenues for the state," the document reads. "The greater the recreational allocation, the longer the recreational fishing season, and thus the greater the direct economic benefit to Louisiana therefrom."
"This precedent would have far-reaching effects as the arguments and remedies at issue apply broadly to all recreational fishing – including red snapper and other fish caught and landed in Louisiana in large numbers," Landry said. "If this assault is left unchecked, many of Louisiana's recreational fishermen would be greatly impacted; so I will do all that I legally can to stop the rule from being revoked."