The Blog Aquatic » red snapper http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Five Sharks Spotted During My Shark Research Cruise http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/09/five-sharks-spotted-during-my-shark-research-cruise/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/09/five-sharks-spotted-during-my-shark-research-cruise/#comments Fri, 09 Aug 2013 17:15:00 +0000 Claudia Friess http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6494 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.

Sandbar Shark
These sharks are often preying on small sharpnoses caught on our hooks. Sandbar sharks are the most abundant large coastal sharks in the western Atlantic, reaching lengths of up to 7.5 feet. They are among the more feisty species we catch; you really have to watch out for those razor-sharp teeth.

After leaving their shallow-water nursery areas, juvenile sandbar sharks spend a few years migrating between nearshore and offshore areas in schools. On this trip, we seemed to have found one of those sandbar schools off the coast of Florida. We had one set with an abnormally large amount of roughly 5-foot sandbar sharks, when normally we only catch a couple of them per set, at most.

Population status: Sandbar sharks are currently classified as overfished by NOAA, and while the population is increasing slowly due to rebuilding measures, it is not expected to be recovered until the year 2070.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
One of our favorite species to see is the magnificent scalloped hammerhead. These sharks reach lengths of up to 14 feet. By their physical appearance you would not guess it, but hammerheads are surprisingly fragile when caught on a hook or in a net. They usually don’t fight back much by the time they are brought to the boat, and we know when we catch one, we have to work fast if we want to get it back in the water alive.

Population status: These sharks are highly desired for the shark fin trade and have become quite rare in the western Atlantic and around the world. They are considered overfished by NOAA and were recently included under CITES appendix II, resulting in monitoring and special permitting requirements for international trade.

Tiger Shark
Another one of my favorites is the tiger shark. At lengths of up to 17 feet, tiger sharks are one of the largest shark species in the world. The ones we commonly catch on the bottom longline survey range from pups of just over a foot long to juveniles and young adults up to about 8 feet, but occasionally we do catch bigger specimens. My crew had a particularly large tiger on the hook the other day, but the sea was too rough for us to cradle it, so we had to cut it loose without measuring or tagging it. The tiger shark is a voracious predator that also doesn’t refuse human garbage such as license plates and old tires.

Population status: The status of tiger sharks in U.S. waters is currently unknown because there has not been a scientific assessment of the tiger shark population. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies tiger sharks globally as near threatened.

Smooth-hound Sharks
There is one species of smooth-hound on the Atlantic side, the smooth dogfish, and there are three in the Gulf of Mexico. Two of the three Gulf species, the smooth dogfish and the Gulf smooth-hound, can be identified only by looking at the shape of their denticles, the small, tooth-like scales that cover a shark’s body and give it the feel of sandpaper. We have to take dermal skin plug samples from any smooth-hounds we catch in the Gulf to identify it to the species level later in the lab.

Population status: On the Atlantic side, a considerable fishery for these small sharks has developed over the past two years, and questionable exceptions were made in the fin requirements of the Shark Conservation Act for the smooth dogfish fishery. Even though smooth dogfish mature relatively early and have large litter sizes (between 4 and 20 pups) for shark standards, they are still vulnerable to overexploitation, like all sharks, and must be managed with care.

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Shark Sighting: What It’s Like Cruising for Sharks http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/05/shark-sighting-what-its-like-cruising-for-sharks/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/05/shark-sighting-what-its-like-cruising-for-sharks/#comments Mon, 05 Aug 2013 20:00:07 +0000 Claudia Friess http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6460 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.

Our job is to go from station to station deploying a mile-long line (the longline) with 100 baited circle hooks on it, then haul back the line after an hour of soak time and process everything that is caught. We fish in depths between 60 and 240 feet.

But boat time is not cheap, so we fish around the clock to make the most of these valuable days at sea. My crew fishes from midnight to noon, and the day crew fishes from noon to midnight.

When we catch a small shark, we bring it on board, and when we catch a big shark, we use a crane-operated cradle to lift the shark out of the water and line it up alongside the boat. Regardless of the size of the shark, the most important thing is to control the head. If you do that, you won’t get bitten.

We measure and weigh each shark as well as record species and sex. Most species also have genetic samples taken and get tagged. Then we throw them back overboard. Sometimes we also catch non-shark fish, most often the highly sought-after red snapper.

By far the most common shark we catch is the Atlantic sharpnose shark, a small species that only reaches about 43 inches in total length. Other species we see are blacktips, blacknose and sandbar sharks.

Sandbar shark caught with sharpnose shark in its jaws

Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy

Often, the bigger sharks get caught because they have eaten a smaller shark (usually a sharpnose) that had previously been caught on the hook! And then there is the occasional treat: a hammerhead or a tiger shark. Unfortunately, these beautiful fishes have become quite rare.

Aside from collecting biological data on the species we catch, the most valuable part of surveys like these is that it’s designed to track the status of these shark populations over time. Each year, the gear is fished the exact same way, and stations are surveyed randomly, which allows researchers to calculate an annual catch rate for each species.

Over time, if the catch rate increases, that indicates the population is going up. Conversely, if the catch rate decreases, that is evidence that the population is declining.

This research is important to helping increase the knowledge for these vital ocean species. The more we know, the more we can help protect them. So these surveys are much more than a regular fishing trip; they’re generating valuable data for the conservation and management of top ocean predators that are so vital to healthy, functional ocean ecosystems.

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Don’t Mess With Success http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/23/dont-mess-with-success/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/23/dont-mess-with-success/#comments Tue, 23 Jul 2013 12:30:42 +0000 Ellen Bolen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6368 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.

Ocean Conservancy worked with The Pew Charitable Trusts to produce a report that highlights some of the successes we’ve seen due to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act” is a primer and collection of stories that highlight pioneers of American fishery management as well as innovators who are opening fishing frontiers.

In addition to driving many coastal economies, the fish featured in the stories of this report are some of the most popular fish to end up on our plates, like salmon, red snapper and scallops.

Here’s an excerpt from the report that helps tell the story of how successful fishermen from Alaska to Maine helped turn around decades of overfishing:

Glen Libby: Port Clyde: The little port that could—and still can

Decades after the collapse of New England’s top fish populations, including cod and flounder, only a few communities continue the region’s rich fishing tradition. The tiny enclave of Port Clyde in Maine is one of them, and Glen Libby is a reason.

“It was either make this work or quit, and I’m too stubborn to quit,” he says. Libby has been fishing for groundfish and shrimp out of Port Clyde for almost 40 years. His father fished there before him, and his brother Gary and son Justin have followed the family tradition.

Libby’s humility aside, credit Port Clyde’s survival to more than stubbornness. Libby and his peers have learned to deal with hardship, creating opportunities amid a legacy of beaten-down fish stocks.

A former member of the New England Fishery Management Council, Libby helped found the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, which has rallied the tenacious few remaining draggers in Port Clyde and other small ports to find ways of adapting. Inventive and determined, fishermen in this port are using the tools afforded them under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to earn a sustainable living …

Check out the full report to read more of these stories and learn how we can protect the future of fish.

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Red Snapper Numbers Go Up In More Ways Than One http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/15/red-snapper-numbers-go-up-in-more-ways-than-one/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/15/red-snapper-numbers-go-up-in-more-ways-than-one/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2013 17:16:37 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6292 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.

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.

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Government Casts a New Line on Fishery Data Collection http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/04/government-casts-a-new-line-on-fishery-data-collection/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/04/government-casts-a-new-line-on-fishery-data-collection/#comments Tue, 04 Jun 2013 15:36:19 +0000 TJ Marshall http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5949 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!

With so many angler trips, the only way to collect fish data that is cost effective and unobtrusive is through a survey. These surveys look at things such as the kinds and numbers of fish caught, and are used to help determine the health of fish populations and what may be changing in the fishery. Estimates of the amount of fish caught by fishermen contribute to assessments that tell us the amount of fish that can be safely caught without harming the fishery.

Much like weather forecasting and political polling in elections, these estimates can change once all the information is in. As surveys continue to improve and we better understand ecologically, culturally and economically important aspects of fisheries, the estimates will improve too. This is exactly why there is now seven extra days to fish for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico this season.  (The most recent red snapper health assessment is under review and we may see further increases to the 2013 fishing season. More on this after the fishery managers meet to discuss results in June.)

Even with limited federal funding, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), driven by a National Research Council report from 2006, was able to develop the promising Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). It took years of pilot projects and reviews before MRIP became operational in 2013. NMFS continues to evolve MRIP with continuous improvements and innovative projects.

Again, while it’s a welcome surprise that I have an additional seven days to hit Gulf waters to try my luck at catching red snapper (which has been phenomenal if I say so myself), I’d be remiss not to note that we need to expect to take the good and the bad.  Improvements in the system don’t necessarily mean seasons will always get longer. Some may in fact have to shorten do to the greater precision of surveys.  And, just as important, we must always keep in mind that recreational fishing is a growth sport and the advancement of models, surveys and estimates from past years of fishing don’t necessarily make an exact prediction for a coming year.  In the end, we simply need to be conservation minded and cautiously approach fishing limits to keep the balance between the freedom to fish and sustainable fisheries.

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10 Key Facts About Red Snapper http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/20/10-key-facts-about-red-snapper/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/20/10-key-facts-about-red-snapper/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 20:30:01 +0000 Ellen Bolen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5734

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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. They are also tasty! There are more than one million recipes for red snapper online.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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Fish Populations Making Comeback, NOAA Report Says http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/22/fish-populations-making-comeback-noaa-report-says/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/22/fish-populations-making-comeback-noaa-report-says/#comments Tue, 22 May 2012 13:30:34 +0000 Ellen Bolen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=635

Coho salmon are one of six populations of fish that NOAA has officially declared rebuilt in 2011. Credit: Soggydan Flickr stream

With a lot of hard work, a new trend is beginning to emerge for America’s fisheries: Good news.

A new report from NOAA shows that six populations of fish have been officially declared rebuilt in 2011, bringing that total number to 27. Fifty-one others are in process of rebuilding, while six are having plans put together now.

Of the 258 marine fish populations managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, only 36 are currently subject to overfishing. Forty-five are overfished, but due to the precise (read: weird) nature of fishery science, a fish population can be considered overfished while recovering.

Gulf red snapper is the perfect example. Its numbers have rebounded greatly over the past 2+ years, and its allowable catch levels have increased in a benefit to everyone involved, but it is still designated as overfished.

That will change as soon as scientists determine the population has fully recovered from decades of overfishing and depletion — a timeline the fishery management plan estimates to be around 2032. Recovery is ongoing, but full population restoration takes more time.

That’s a lot of numbers but what does it all mean? In short, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working. We have laws on how wild marine fish are to be harvested: specifically Magnuson-Stevens (MSA).

The goal is to catch the fish we need for food and recreational while still preserving enough to ensure future generations. MSA added real teeth to management, set specific dates when plans needed to be put in place by regulators for overfished stocks, and set 2012 as the year overfishing must end.

The news from NOAA shows that it worked and continues to work. And while nothing — least of all MSA — is perfect, to repeal and/or water it down now would be snapping defeat from the jaws of victory.

Magnuson is working. Let it work.

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