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428A Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 10:00 AM

Chairman David Vitter

Good morning and thank you for joining me today for the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Hearing on “The Impacts of Federal Fisheries Management on Small Businesses.” I want to thank all of our witnesses for being here today.

For those of us born and raised in Louisiana, we share an inherent appreciation for our state’s abundant natural resources. We also share an obligation to encourage conservation efforts while protecting public access to these resources. And when it comes to fishing in the Gulf, there needs to be a mutual respect between the recreational anglers and commercial fishermen.

Gulf anglers are an economic powerhouse for both Louisiana and the entire Gulf region, which makes protecting the public’s access to these resources even more important. Responsible for creating and implementing the rules that govern our fisheries in the Gulf’s federal waters is the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) and the Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council).

It is troubling to me that these two organizations, supposedly dedicated to proper management of our fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, continue to chip away at the rights of recreational anglers, particularly with access to certain fisheries, including the red snapper fishery. The Gulf Council and NMFS are in place to protect the interests of the public, and yet continued attacks on the recreational sector and a failure to utilize proper data collection strategies have led to decisions that do the exact opposite. While every region has its issues, our Gulf fisheries are considered some of the worst managed fisheries in the nation, especially when compared to fisheries in the Northwest United States and Alaska regions.

Using proper data collection techniques is paramount for the proper management of our Gulf fisheries. The problems over at NMFS in accomplishing this were recently detailed in a Government Accountability Office Report titled: “RECREATIONAL FISHERIES MANAGEMENT - The National Marine Fisheries Service Should Develop a Comprehensive Strategy to Guide Its Data Collection Efforts.”

In this report, which I will be entering into the record, GAO detailed how NMFS, current data collection methods does not result in quality recreational fishing data which poses challenges for timely managing marine recreational fisheries. This failure to use quality data collection methods has resulted in States like Louisiana and Texas creating their own data collection programs.

Right now there are over 3 million salt water recreational anglers, including charter boats, all the way from Florida to Texas, and nearly 400 commercial red snapper fishermen. However, federal management authorities weigh the priorities of the few over the public, which can be seen in the reduction of the recreational red snapper season from 40 to 10 or fewer days.

I certainly understand the need to find a balance in timing for recreational and commercial harvests, but it is clear that federal authorities are not taking into account the effects their decisions have not only have on anglers, but also the small businesses that surround the recreational community.

For the livelihoods of Gulf Coast anglers and businesses that rely on the red snapper fishery, updating the outdated data collection strategies and allocation levels is an urgent matter. In the Gulf alone, salt and fresh water anglers generate in $13.5 billion for the region, as well as supporting almost 121,000 jobs. On a wider scale, the recreational angler industry contributes around $115 billion annually to the national economy, helping keep close to 563,000 people employed.

The issues surrounding these Gulf fisheries have continued to spur national attention. While several logical solutions have presented themselves, including a historic agreement by the Gulf States to manage some of the worst managed federal fisheries themselves, progress on this issue has been thwarted by those who demand the status quo stay in effect. This is clearly seen in the flurry of lawsuits in recent years that have been aimed at any attempts to adjust allocation levels. Many of these efforts to diminish the voices of millions of Gulf anglers and the businesses that support them are led by organizations from outside the Gulf region. It’s time for the Gulf States to take a larger role in the management of these important assets.

In a time of economic uncertainty the United States Senate should be focused on data backed solutions that support our nation’s small businesses and spur job creation. Again, I’d like to thank everyone for being here today and look forward to our discussion. With that, I’d like to turn it over to our Ranking Member, Senator Shaheen.