New study estimates three times more Red Snapper in Gulf of Mexico
A huge discovery for researchers after overfishing nearly wiped out the species.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Red Snapper thrives in Gulf waters. In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists across the Gulf Coasts found an estimated 110 million Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, compared to previous federal estimates of 36 million.
“We can use some sophisticated management approaches that hopefully will give everyone more access to those fish,” said Dr. Greg Stunz, who led the study on the Great Red Snapper Count out of Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and the Harte Research Institute.
Dr. Stunz said his team of researchers worked countless hours over the course of three years counting the Gulf’s snapper population.
The $12.5 million study was a collaborative effort across the Gulf of Mexico. About $9.5 million was provided by congressional appropriations through a NOAA Sea Grant, while the rest was funded through individual institutes involved.
“We assembled a team of really the best Red Snapper scientists around,” said Stunz.
The team used remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to go below the surface and count the fish.
“Of course with the Mississippi outflow, that’s not as easy because the visibility is zero many times,” he said. In which case, sonar systems were used to count fish through soundwaves, finding an abundance of snapper west of the Mississippi off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
“Counting fish that you can’t see are obviously problematic but we have technology at our hands that’ll allow us to do that,” he said. “So we’re really happy about our estimate and we’re hoping this gets quickly integrated into management and it can alleviate some of this controversy in the fishery.”
Controversy, he said, that almost wiped out the species due to overfishing which caused fishery officials to put strict guidelines on Red Snapper seasons and limits. Read more about the history of Red Snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico here.
“There’s still more recovery to do, but it’s a good thing that we found these fish in this unclassified bottom because it’s essentially a reserve of fish that we didn’t realize was out there, so that’s good news.”
Stunz said the iconic and economically important Red Snapper contributes to a billion-dollar a year seafood industry, and now state and federal officials will evaluate the population closely based on the new numbers.
“What happens in the management process. That’s being integrated and evaluated as we speak,” he said.
The Gulf Fisheries Council is meeting April 12-15 to assess the study and recommendations. The council is expected to set federal season and quotas for recreational anglers for the 2021 season. The council has already voted on Red Snapper season for federal for-hire charters which opens June 1, 2021 and runs until August 3, 2021.
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