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Conservation Groups File Suit on 'Do-Nothing' Red Snapper Plan

National Marine Fisheries Service does little to protect fish populations in Gulf of Mexico
June 6, 2005
New Orleans, LA — 
Earthjustice, representing the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), and the Ocean Conservancy, filed suit Friday in the U.S. District Court in Louisiana challenging a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) management plan for Gulf of Mexico red snapper. According to the suit, after seven years in the making, the plan does nothing to restore red snapper -- neither ending the continued overfishing that plagues this species nor helping rebuild the species' population to healthy levels as required by federal law.

"Approval of the red snapper 'do-nothing' plan marks an all-time low for NMFS. It is apparent the agency is not focused on conserving and managing red snapper for the long-term," laments Aaron Viles, Fisheries Campaign Director for the Gulf Restoration Network. "This shows that NMFS will continue to allow as much red snapper as possible to be caught, even if that means putting the species at risk."

Red snapper have suffered for many years in the Gulf of Mexico due to government delays and an inadequate management regime. Earthjustice attorney Steve Roady, who is representing GRN along with Biloxi attorney Robert Wiygul said, "For too long NMFS has ignored legal mandates requiring it to end overfishing and rebuild red snapper populations. The Gulf species was first identified as depleted back in 1989. The law required NMFS to end overfishing and start rebuilding red snapper many years ago; it has failed to do so."

Since 1997, red snapper has been listed as overfished with overfishing still occurring in every Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries, a document that lists which U.S. fish resources are troubled. The Gulf Restoration Network and the Ocean Conservancy have worked for many years to improve management of red snapper. But NMFS has not improved management of this species. Marianne Cufone, Esq., a Fisheries Consultant for the Gulf Restoration Network, said, "NMFS has completely ignored the law by approving this so-called plan. NMFS needs to end its delay tactics and stop overfishing immediately to effectively rebuild the species."

"Red snapper ranks as one of our nation's greatest fishery management horror stories. For the past ten years NMFS has consistently approved catch limits that violate the recommendations of its scientific advisors and allowed the continued slaughter of young red snapper by the shrimp fishery resulting in a red snapper population that is now at seven percent of its historic abundance," said Chris Dorsett, Gulf of Mexico Fish Conservation Director for the Ocean Conservancy. "Two blue ribbon panels tasked with reviewing our nation's fish management policies, including the Bush Administration's U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, recently recommended that catch levels be set at levels consistent with scientific advice. Apparently, NMFS will continue its business-as-usual approach for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico to the detriment of the fish and ultimately the fishermen."


Contact:
Steve Roady, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500
Aaron Viles, Gulf Restoration Network (504) 525-1528
Chris Dorsett, The Ocean Conservancy (415) 608-6761