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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

Good News For Gulf Fishermen

Posted On October 29, 2014 by

The prognosis for the long-term recovery of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico brightened considerably last Thursday with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s passage of a measure known as “Amendment 40”—also known to fishermen as “Sector Separation.” Amendment 40 will allow separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper.

Although the red snapper fishery in the Gulf is managed as a single stock, the reality is that fishermen from the Florida Keys to South Texas face different situations and fish for different reasons. A for-hire captain who takes customers out of Southwest Florida and deep into federal waters may have a different set of concerns or needs than the weekend recreational angler who has a boat and likes to go red snapper fishing with friends and family but might not venture far from their home marina in the Florida Panhandle, Louisiana, or Texas. It is because of these vastly different situations among fishermen that a new management strategy was needed to address individual concerns, while also ensuring that conservation and rebuilding of the stock remains paramount.

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Five Sharks Spotted During My Shark Research Cruise

Posted On August 9, 2013 by

measuring a baby tiger shark

A scientist measures a juvenile tiger shark during a population survey. Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy

More than 70 species of shark occur in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic coast. Of those, we catch over a dozen large and small coastal species during the bottom longline population survey I’m participating in with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Here are five of the species we commonly spot:

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark
This small shark is the most commonly caught species during our survey because it is ubiquitous in this region. In the right depths, it is not uncommon for us to catch around 50 of these small sharks per set of 100 hooks.

Population status: Due to their abundance in the western North Atlantic, their population status is not considered to be of great concern. Apart from humans, Atlantic sharpnose sharks also have other, larger sharks to fear as predators.

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Shark Sighting: What It’s Like Cruising for Sharks

Posted On August 5, 2013 by

hammerhead shark

Hammerhead shark caught for a population survey. Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy

While most people out on the water are trying to avoid sharks, I’m on a boat that’s looking for them. We’re trying to find out which shark species are doing well and which ones are in trouble.

The answer: it’s complicated. But one important piece of evidence is the information collected on scientific surveys of population abundance, like the one I’m on right now.

It’s my third year as a volunteer on the science crew with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I am currently on the NOAA ship OREGON II, a 170-foot research vessel with its home port in Pascagoula, Miss.

This is the first leg of the annual shark and red snapper bottom longline survey. The survey is conducted in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico from South Texas to the Florida Keys and along the East Coast up to Cape Hatteras, N.C. That’s a total of four legs lasting two weeks each.

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Don’t Mess With Success

Posted On July 23, 2013 by

fishermen load scallops onto a boatThanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, our nation now benefits from dozens of rebuilt fish populations. But even as we have seen remarkable progress made, we have also seen an increase in political challenges that threaten this crucial law.

This vital US. fishing law is due to be reauthorized this year, and this morning the Senate will hold a hearing to discuss the progress made under the law and next steps for U.S. fisheries management.

Lawmakers should strengthen the law to ensure continued progress in transitioning our fisheries to long term sustainability. Just one example of recent efforts: last week’s historic decision to increase red snapper catch limits in the Gulf due to success in restoring the population back to healthy levels.

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Red Snapper Numbers Go Up In More Ways Than One

Posted On July 15, 2013 by

Fisherman loads red snapper into buckets

Credit: Tom McCann / Ocean Conservancy

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.

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Government Casts a New Line on Fishery Data Collection

Posted On June 4, 2013 by

Credit: Our Enchanted Garden via Flickr

Credit: Our Enchanted Garden via Flickr

As an avid recreational fisherman, it was a welcomed surprise last week to learn that seven days would be added to one of my favorite times of year: red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico. Historically, red snapper have been severely overfished in the Gulf but are now on their way back. As the fishery and the fishing improve, so is the technology to monitor catches — a critical component to ensure the health of this iconic species.

Way back in the golden era of recreational fishing, shortly after World War II, American prosperity grew and with it came dramatic technological advances in small outboard engines, fiberglass boats, fishing rods and reels.   A new era of fishermen was born and the technology for counting catches needed to…well, catch up.

The freedom to fish alone or with a few friends at anytime during a set season and anywhere you can launch a boat or cast from shore is one of the timeless pleasures of recreational fishing. There’s nothing like getting outdoors and catching a few fish.  With more fishermen taking more fish out of the water than ever before, we need to make sure fisheries are healthy and have the numbers to support themselves. Individually, sometimes it seems our catch is not equating to too much, yet collectively the numbers really add up. Each one of those days an individual fisherman puts a hook in the water adds up to millions of fishing trips per year. In fact, there were more than 23 million fishing trips last year in the Gulf!

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10 Key Facts About Red Snapper

Posted On May 20, 2013 by

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:

  1. Red snapper can grow to about 40 inches, weigh up to 50 pounds and live more than 50 years.
  2. Red snapper begin to reproduce when they are about two years old, spawning from May to October along rocky ledges or coral reefs.
  3. 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. Continue reading »