Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) are one of the Gulf of Mexico’s signature fish. They are extremely popular among recreational fishermen and a prized offering at restaurants and seafood markets, as well as a top predator in the Gulf ecosystem. Recently there has been a great deal of debate about the health and management of this important fish. Ocean Conservancy, along with Pew Charitable Trusts, has released a report about the law that is saving American fisheries, including red snapper. Here are few handy facts about this iconic fish:
- Red snapper can grow to about 40 inches, weigh up to 50 pounds and live more than 50 years.
- Red snapper begin to reproduce when they are about two years old, spawning from May to October along rocky ledges or coral reefs.
- Fertilized eggs float on the surface and hatch within a day. Only a month later, the young fish settle out of the water column in shallow waters, and as they get older, they move to structured habitat where they will mature and eventually move to the deeper waters of the Gulf.
- Bigger, older red snappers produce many more eggs than young ones. One 24-inch female red snapper (about 8 years old) produces as many fish as 212 17-inch females (about 5 years old) Most red snapper caught in the Gulf today are only between four and six years old.
- Economically, red snapper are among the most valuable fish in the Gulf. In 2011, commercial fishermen from the five Gulf states landed more than 3.2 million pounds of red snapper, sold dockside for $11.5 million.
- They are also tasty! There are more than one million recipes for red snapper online.
- Sport fishermen love to pursue them as well. In 2011, 3.1 million recreational anglers took more than 22 million fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico targeting red snapper and other species. These fishing trips are a boon to the local economy.
- Red snapper have been severely overfished in the Gulf but are now on their way back. The Gulf snapper population reached its low point the late 1980s, but since then science based and effective management and favorable conditions for reproduction have put the red snapper on the road to recovery. Since 2009 catch limits for snapper have steadily increased.
- There is a science-based plan in place to rebuild red snapper to healthier levels. It is working but will take time. If implemented properly, management agencies hope to restore the population to sustainable levels by 2032.
- This is the tough part. The population is recovering so people are seeing more and bigger fish in the water and in places they haven’t been seen in decades, making the fish easier to catch. This leads to higher catch rates and more fish being removed during a typical day of open recreational season for red snapper. Science-based limits critical to the successes we’ve seen are thus get reached faster resulting in shorter recreational fishing seasons. This has been compared to taking antibiotics when you are sick—you’ll start to feel better in a few days, but if you stop taking the medicine too soon you run the risk of undoing the progress you’ve made and could get sick again.
Read the story of red snapper from a fisherman’s perspective in our new report. And here is an update on policy affecting red snapper in the Gulf.