John Rutherford, Stephanie Murphy Champion Red Snapper Act

Last week, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., introduced the “Red Snapper Act,” with more than a dozen co-sponsors being led by retiring U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.

The bill “would prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from implementing area closures in the South Atlantic until the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count study is complete and the findings are integrated into the fishery’s stock assessment.”

Rutherford’s office explained why the congressman offered the proposal.

“Recreational fishing in Florida is a major economic driver that produced $9.2 billion in economic output and supported 88,501 jobs in 2020. Over the last 10 years, the South Atlantic fishing community has worked hard to rebuild the red snapper stock. However, due to a lack of good data, seasons remain short and fail to reflect the real number of red snapper in the region. To fix this, Congress appropriated $5.1 million over the last three years to fund the South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count, which will deliver reliable data on abundance, genomics, and mortality and improve access to red snapper fishing for anglers,” Rutherford’s office noted. “Earlier this year, NOAA proposed closures for all bottom fishing in the South Atlantic in an effort to decrease the red snapper caught outside of the two-day recreational season. While the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council ultimately rejected NOAA’s proposal, the threat of future closures persists. The Red Snapper Act would prevent NOAA from making future sweeping management decisions until the ongoing South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count is complete.”

Rutherford and Murphy weighed in on why they were championing the legislation on Thursday.

“For too long, Florida’s anglers have been forced to put up with bad science and short red snapper seasons. The sweeping closures proposed by NOAA would have devastated our economy right here in Northeast Florida,” said Rutherford. “Our bipartisan Red Snapper Act will stop NOAA from closing fisheries and force them to use better data. Florida anglers deserve dependable access to red snapper fishing now and for years to come.”

“Fishing is not only a key part of the Florida way of life, but it is also essential for the survival of our coastal economies and the small businesses that depend on robust fishing seasons,” said Murphy. “I was proud to spearhead the Great Red Snapper Count, along with Congressman Rutherford, to get a more accurate picture of the number of fish in the South Atlantic, but proposed closures from NOAA could threaten access to bottom fishing before the study is complete. With this new legislation, we are pushing back to ensure our fisheries are not shut down and that NOAA uses the best data available moving forward.”

Other backers include U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Neal Dunn, R-Fla., Brian Mast, R-Fla., Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., Michael Waltz, R-Fla., and Daniel Webster, R-Fla. The bill was sent to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. So far, there is no companion measure in the U.S. Senate.

The Center for Sportfishing Policy, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association and the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) are backing the proposal.

Back in August, Murphy and Rutherford led a congressional letter to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad, asking him “to suspend further consideration of area closures in the South Atlantic until data from the ongoing South Atlantic Great Red Snapper Count can be integrated into management decisions.” Four members of the U.S. Senate signed the letter including U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rick Scott, R-Fla. More than 20 members of the U.S. House signed the letter including U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., Kat Cammack, R-Fla., Val Demings, D-Fla., Byron Donalds, R-Fla., Scott Franklin, R-Fla., Al Lawson, D-Fla., Brian Mast, R-Fla., Bill Posey, R-Fla., Salazar, Darren Soto, D-Fla., Waltz and Webster.

In March 2021, the beginning of the Great Red Snapper Count in the South Atlantic, Murphy and Rutherford secured $3.3 million in appropriations legislation to fund an independent 30-month study that will help better understand the true stock of red snapper in the South Atlantic.

Kevin Derby
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