UPDATE (July 17, 2013): Success! The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has voted to raise this year’s catch limit for red snapper from 8.46 to 11 million pounds due to the successful rebuilding of this iconic species. This action marks a historic moment in the management of the red snapper fishery, as catch levels are the highest they’ve been in 25 years.
Read more about this decision here.
Original post (July 15, 2013):
It’s summer in the Gulf of Mexico, and another recreational red snapper fishing season has come and gone too quickly. Usually at this time of year, anglers and fishery managers are taking stock of what was caught in the short snapper opening and wondering what the limit will be next year. The answer will come sooner than usual.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is holding an emergency meeting this week to decide how many more red snapper can be caught this year. A science panel recently announced that an increase is possible, and now managers need to settle the questions of how much and by when?
The good news is that the red snapper population is on the rise and soon the catch limit will be too. The law governing our nation’s fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, has rebuilt a record number of fish populations around the country, and red snapper is one of the most visible success stories.
As recently as 2005, the red snapper population was fished down to 3 percent of its historic abundance, and catch limits were reduced to allow recovery. Just eight years later, fishermen are reporting better fishing and larger fish, and scientists have confirmed red snapper is on the road to recovery.
Because red snapper was reduced so low, we have a long way to go to achieve full restoration of the population. So the trick this week is to set a responsible catch limit increase—Ocean Conservancy is recommending between 11 and 11.9 million pounds—to keep up the progress that has already been made while allowing additional fishing opportunities for commercial and recreational participants.
Keeping the increase to a responsible level benefits everyone. Recreational fishermen will be able to catch more fish and get a more stable fishing season, helping to support tourism and local economies for both the short and long term. Commercial fishing will benefit for years to come as the population continues to rebound and provide stable and secure harvests into the future. And for the general public, especially seafood-lovers, responsible limits demonstrate a long-term commitment to the recovery and sustainability of Gulf fisheries—and the food and recreation they provide us all.
Red snapper is an iconic Gulf species, and economically is among the most valuable fish so its long-term recovery and health should be our first priority. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster still represents a great source of uncertainty for the region’s fisheries, and making the right choices is more important now than ever as we do not yet know the extent to which the disaster affected red snapper and the things they rely on as a food source.
For now, the good news is that snapper is rebounding and the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working. Now it’s up to fishery managers to make a responsible decision on the catch limit to help ensure the good news continues.