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Congress resolves own-goal issue for Edwards

Congress resolved a self-inflicted political wound to Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, which could impact marginally his reelection chances.

Last week, S. 1520 went to Republican Pres. Donald Trump for his signature into law. This would make small but significant changes to fisheries management. Specifically, the Modern Fish Act would give greater input to recreational fishing interests in determining quotas, as well as deriving a new regime in determining limits that likely would increase them, which probably would allow a greater amount of fishing by recreational interests.

Both industry and environmental interests opposed the bill and a complementary measure in the House, authored by Louisiana’s GOP Rep. Garret Graves, as it allowed most coastal states through their regional fisheries councils to adjust catch limits higher that likely would have favored recreational fishers. But environmentalists dropped resistance upon emendation of the Senate bill to remove those provisions.

The study required could recommend that still, but recreational interests with certainly gain an advantage with the version that went through, as opposed to a reauthorization of the previous statute governing fishing. This probably means smaller shares for industry.

Besides the importance of such a measure because of Louisiana’s extensive coastal fishing resources, political factors also magnified the issue for the state. Not long after assuming office, the Edwards appointee to head the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, former Sec. Charlie Melancon, created a stir by his strident opposition to the ideas encapsulated in the legislation, then expressed in a somewhat-different bill Graves had authored during the last Congress.

Eventually, for this reason and others Melancon, a former congressman-turned-lobbyist with no experience in the area but an ally of political interests that had aided Edwards in his election, got the boot from Edwards two years ago. Interestingly, one of Melancon’s final acts gutted programs popular with recreational fishers that the new legislation encourages.

Such a distraction Melancon had become that Edwards convinced former state Rep. Jack Montoucet to take the departmental reins. This ended up costing Edwards a vote in the House, with Republican state Rep. John Stefanski replacing him.

Edwards’ opposition to Graves’ efforts never was entirely clear, but it seemed related to a desire to spend more on government programs wished by his base (by arguing, baselessly, that changes would cost the state money), a dalliance with environmentalist interests who backed him on other matters such as legacy lawsuits, and sucking up to industry interests. At some point, he must have recognized the ruckus raised by Graves and recreational fishers did his political profile no good, and any visible effort to derail the coming reforms disappeared – although his only ally in the Louisiana delegation, Democrat Rep. Cedric Richmond, helped him go down swinging by being just one of 11 in Congress to vote against the bill.

Whether the fight created enough enmity among thousands of recreational fishers in the state to cost Edwards their votes next year remains uncertain, but with a challenging reelection campaign ahead, the needless conflict assuredly hasn’t helped.

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