(Video) Byrne skewers govt. bureaucrat for damaging Alabama’s massive red snapper industry
(Video above: Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) grills a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official during a Congressional hearing Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.)
Samuel D. Rauch III is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the government agency that manages every fishery in the country, in Rauch’s words, “from the Virgin Islands to the Northern Marianas to Alaska to Hawaii.”
Rauch had to testify before Congress on Thursday about what many critics have characterized as the mismanagement of red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, including off of Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
It did not go well.
At the federal level, NOAA is tasked with regulating the stock of red snapper off of Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, in spite of their enormous budget — which comes in at just shy of a billion dollars — their system of measuring the red snapper stock is woefully inadequate.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) pointed out during the question and answer time of Rauch’s congressional testimony that a local college professor had better testing equipment than the NOAA.
“You have $900 million and you can’t give us any better count of the fish stock than what you’ve told us today?” Byrne asked, to which Rauch responded that they do the best they can.
According to local South Alabama fisherman, the “best they can” isn’t cutting it — not by a long shot.
For instance, the federal system estimated that 1,000,041 pounds of red snapper were landed this year, while the Alabama system estimated that just 418,000 pounds were landed. As a result, the thousands of private recreational fisherman who fish for red snapper off the Alabama Gulf Coast were only allowed to do so for nine days out of the entire year. If the local numbers are more accurate, which they are according to expert testimony before Congress on Thursday, the red snapper season should have been roughly twice as long as it was.
Additionally, Byrne pointed out that NOAA excludes Alabama’s artificial reef zones when measuring the red snapper stock. That’s particularly troublesome because red snapper are reef fish, meaning the NOAA sample is very likely to drastically underestimate the number of red snapper in the Gulf waters.
While this may seem like a local issue that doesn’t impact the rest of the state, Chris Blankenship, the Marine Resources Director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, estimates that saltwater fishing in Alabama has a $727 million economic impact on the state as a whole.
So a three-quarters of a billion dollar industry is, according to Alabama officials, being hamstrung by a bloated federal bureaucracy that admits it cannot do the job as well as locals can, but doesn’t want to give up the power that would allow them to do it.
“We have lost confidence in you. The people in the Gulf states have lost confidence in you,” Rep. Byrne told Rauch. “Quite frankly, I think we’ve come to the point that we need to take (funding) away from your organization and give it to the people who live in that area who will do it right and do it with sound science in a way that will sense for us all.”
A bill is currently pending in Congress that would do exactly that.
Check out the tense back and forth between Rauch and Byrne in the video above.
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— Cliff Sims (@Cliff_Sims) December 3, 2014