Nathan Stubbs

State tightens restrictions on red snapper fishing

by Nathan Stubbs

The state department of Wildlife and Fisheries has set tighter restrictions for fishing of red snapper, whose Gulf population is still struggling to rebound. The red snapper catch limit for recreational fishermen remains at two, which was set last year and is down from the previous limit of four per person. However, this year’s season for catching red snapper has been shortened by more than two months. Recreational red snapper fishing now runs from June 1 through Sept. 30. Commercial fishermen, who must qualify for an allotment of the overall commercial harvest, also face stricter limits.

Wildlife and Fisheries spokesman Harry Blanchet says the new regulations on based on standards set by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The federal agency has set this year’s total allowable catch for red snapper at 5 million pounds. This is down from a total allowable catch of 6.5 million pounds last year and 9.12 million pounds in 2006. “The estimates are that we are substantially below the biomass that is required for the conservation standards,” Blanchet says, “Red snapper at the current time is estimated to be overfished and having overfishing occurring.” Overall, Blanchet says that fisheries agencies are still trying to find the right regulations to allow the red snapper populations recover. Red snapper was first identified by scientists as being severely overfished in 1989, largely due to the heavy amounts of young fish getting pulled up as bycatch in shrimping nets. A 2005 assessment estimated the red snapper spawning population to be three percent of its historical abundance. The National Marine Fisheries Service is scheduled to conduct another assessment in 2010.