JARVIS: The case against an ‘arbitrary’ snapper rule

Gary Jarvis, Captain’s Log

Some members of the Destin fishing fleet and the charter for hire industry are taking the issue of fair and equal access for its customers into the courts.

On April 23, 2013, the the Charter Fisherman’s Association (CFA) filed a lawsuit in United States District Court in Texas on behalf of its members and the recreational fishing public who rely on the charter boat industry for access to the offshore fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. The suit is challenging the emergency rule passed on Feb. 8, 2013, by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council allowing the National Marine Fisheries Service, more specifically the Southeast regional administrator, to reduce the number of days in the recreational fishing season off the coast of Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

The overall intent of this emergency rule was aimed at states with red snapper seasons in their territorial waters that are non-compliant and less restrictive than the federal season and to hold only those states accountable for the landings off their respective coasts.

Beginning in 2008, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council enacted measures to restrict recreational landings in territorial state waters by passing a rule that all federally permitted charter boats must follow the more restrictive federal red snapper season. Thus, the council used the federal permit requirement on all charter boats as a way to deny a large portion of the recreational fishermen and an entire industry access to fishing in their own state.

This one rule referred to as Rule 30B keeps the charter boat industry from fishing the less restrictive, non-compliant, open state seasons. CFA maintains that this establishes our industry’s position as compliant with the more restrictive federal regulations.

CFA claims the National Marine Fisheries Service has granted itself the authority to limit or close the federal red snapper fishery to only a portion of the charter boat industry and not to the entire participants in the recreational fishery — despite the fact that as federal permit holders they have been abiding by the agency’s more restrictive seasons.

Thus in effect, the industry is adversely affected solely based on the state from which they fish and not due to any non-compliance in their fishery. The Charter Fisherman’s Association and their hundreds of members in all 5 coastal states see the latest move by the National Marine Fisheries Service, to further restrict access with the recent emergency rule as arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance with the law or the national standards for fishery conservation and management.

CFA has filed the lawsuit not only on behalf of the charter boat industry and recreational fishermen but also on behalf of the coastal businesses whose livelihoods depend in a large part on the overall access to our gulf fisheries. A federal judge has set a hearing for May 30, 2013, in Brownsville Texas and CFA remains hopeful that a favorable decision will come from this hearing.

As Capt. Mike Jennings, president of the CFA, recently said: “Our intent is simple. As federally permitted charter boat owners in Louisiana, Florida and Texas, we are held to a higher standard and restricted from participating in the open state water season. So we are just as compliant with federal regulations as those in Alabama or Mississippi. But the emergency rule punishes a portion of the industry simply because of the state we operate in.”

With a favorable judgement, the Destin fishing fleet will have a full 27-day red snapper season in 2013, if not the fleet will most likely lose a whole week of fishing due to the FWCC decision to have a special 44-day state water only fishery. Federally permitted members of the Destin fishing fleet will not be able to fish in state waters during this time, and their customers will lose a week’s worth of historical access in the process.

Capt. Gary Jarvis is a member of the Charter Fisherman’s Association. He is one of the founders and former president. Jarvis, who has been fishing for the past 35 years, owns and operates the Charter boat Back Down 2 in Destin.