Cochran Committee Approves Giving Mississippi Jurisdiction Over Offshore Fishing Grounds, Encourages Urges NOAA to Increase Catch Limits

WASHINGTON, D.C — U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today reported committee approval of provisions to extend Mississippi’s jurisdiction in the Gulf of Mexico to improve red snapper management and benefit anglers on the Gulf Coast.

Cochran chaired the committee markup of the FY2016 Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other federal agencies.

Cochran supported a provision in the bill that extends the state seaward fishery boundaries for fishery management in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana from three miles to nine miles. This would give these states greater influence in regulating Gulf state fisheries. Currently, only Texas and Florida enjoy nine-mile limits, and this provision would ensure parity among all Gulf Coast states.

“I am all for giving the State of Mississippi authority to oversee more of its own coast and allowing those with firsthand knowledge of the region’s needs, namely Mississippians, to have more influence its future,” Cochran said. “I’m excited about the opportunities for Mississippi that this bill creates, and I look forward to its consideration by the full Senate.”

Additionally, the committee-passed bill recommends funding for an independent assessment of reef fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico, which will allow for an organization other than NOAA to conduct this research. The legislation instructs NOAA to count fish on artificial reefs and offshore energy infrastructure. The agency would also be required to incorporate this new, more accurate count into its stock assessments, which could potentially increase the allowable catch of red snapper for private anglers.

“Sportsmen and women are true conservationists. They have a vested interest in ensuring a continued, stable future for their sport,” said Cochran, a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. “These provisions represent a straightforward effort to try to get past some of the contentious policies that have affected fishing in the Gulf.”

Cochran, who last year introduced legislation to expand Mississippi’s jurisdiction over coastal waters, expressed appreciation for U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, for developing these provisions. The bill, which passed on a bipartisan 27-3 vote, is now available for consideration by the full Senate.

Other highlights in the bill that are of interest to Mississippi include:

· Aquaculture — $10 million for aquaculture research and development and $7 million to support aquaculture activities at NOAA’s fisheries science laboratories. Overall, this is an increase of $6.8 million above FY 2015 enacted levels for NOAA supported aquaculture. A portion of these funds will be used to support activities at the Fisheries Science Center in Pascagoula, Miss.

· Electronic Reporting – The bill includes full funding for electronic monitoring and reporting technologies to support real-time fisheries data collection to cut costs and lower the burden for our Gulf commercial and recreational fishermen.

· NOAA National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) – The bill report calls for full funding for the NDBC, which is housed at the Stennis Space Center and is instrumental in helping meteorologists and researchers monitor and predict ocean and coastal weather events.

· Sea Grant Law Center – The bill report calls for NOAA to continue its partnership with the University of Mississippi through the National Sea Grant Law Center.