Red Snapper Frequently Asked Questions
What has the Gulf Council proposed for snapper fishing? What’s at stake for Texas anglers?
On Feb. 8, 2013, over strong objections from state agency representatives with Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) voted to implement an emergency rule that that would give the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) southeast regional administrator authority to shorten the snapper season in federal waters off states that do not set consistent rules with the federal regulations. This could reduce the recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters off the Texas coast to a projected 12 days, down from a projected 22-day season which assumed Texas, Louisiana, and Florida were inconsistent with the federal regulations. In fact, the rule allows the regional administrator to establish a season with zero days if they believe it is warranted.
On April 19, the Council voted 8 to 7 to overturn the emergency rule, in effect reversing the Feb. 8 vote. However, the emergency rule had already been published in the federal register, and it remains to be seen if NMFS will act in accordance with the latest Council vote to overturn the rule.
What can be done about this? What are Texas fisheries officials doing?
On April 22, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and its commission joined together to file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the emergency rule that would allow the NMFS regional administrator to significantly reduce the recreational red snapper season in federal waters off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.
Texas and Louisiana representatives emphasized they hope to resolve the matter and hope that NMFS will act in accordance with the Gulf Council wishes for this year and will continue to work longer-term for a cooperative regional management approach, but said the lawsuit was an added measure of enforceability in case NMFS does not act on the latest council motion prior to the start of red snapper season June 1. The federal court has been asked to expedite its consideration of the case so that a decision is reached before June 1.
Who are the players involved here? Who controls red snapper fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico?
The federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act sets out eight fishery management councils to help manage fisheries in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which starts nine miles off the Texas coast and extends out to 200 miles. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) manages state waters from the coast out to nine nautical miles. The Gulf council prepares fishery management plans designed to manage fishery resources in the EEZ waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and has 17 voting members from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Why are snapper regulations different in Texas waters compared to federal waters?
Since the late 1990’s, the red snapper recreational regulations in state waters (set by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission) have been different than federal regulations in the EEZ Currently the regulations in Texas state waters is (Texas Territorial Sea) is a 4 fish daily bag limit, 15 inch minimum size limit, and the fishery is open year around. In the EEZ there is a 2 fish bag limit with a 16 inch minimum size limit and the season is set to begin on June 1 with the length of season still in questions based on NMFS action regarding the emergency rule. The TPWD staff strongly believes Texas regulations for state waters are appropriate, based on the most current stock assessment, recreational harvest data, and the fact that the authority to manage Texas state waters falls solely to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
What’s the short history of red snapper regulation in the federal EEZ in recent years?
The recreational red snapper fishing season has been significantly reduced in the Gulf of Mexico federal EEZ during the last three years. The season was 65 days in 2008, 75 days in 2009, 77 days in 2010 (23 days were added for a supplemental fall season to the original 54 days due to extensive closures which occurred due to the BP-Deep Water Horizon oil spill), 48 days in 2011, 46 days (6 days added to the original 40 day season due to projected under harvest) in 2012, and is proposed to be 22 days for in the EEZ when considering state rules.
Is this continued restriction on snapper harvest biologically necessary?
Texas would say no. Consider these facts:
- Reductions in snapper fishing days are occurring even as the stock is rebuilding and more pounds of fish have been allowed for harvest in the past several years.
- Red Snapper exhibit a high degree of site fidelity or attraction to particular locations, typically not traveling long distances. In one study, the average distance the fish that could be tracked was about 10 kilometers (about 6 1/4 miles). Thus, fishing off one state’s coast is unlikely to affect the population near another state’s coast.
- Historically, red snapper was fished beyond sustainable levels, but in recent years has undergone a sustained recovery pursuant to a long-term recovery plan enacted in 1984.
- The snapper population in the western Gulf of Mexico hit a low point in 1989 with an estimated 498,600 adult female spawners. But by 2008, spawners in the western Gulf were estimated at 1,397,600, an increase of 280 percent.
- Mean length of red snapper landed by recreational anglers has approximately doubled in the past 30 years in both federal and Texas waters.
- Coastwide in Texas, red snapper young of the yearly catch per unit effort from TPWD Gulf trawls has increased significantly since 1986. The red snapper population continues to expand in Texas waters.
What is the interplay between snapper regulation and in the eastern and western Gulf?
The western Gulf red snapper sub-unit in waters off Texas and Louisiana has a higher biomass and lower fishing mortality than the eastern Gulf sub-unit in waters off Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The eastern Gulf fishery is composed of smaller and younger fish than the western Gulf. The problem is that shifting the recreational fishery from the western Gulf to the eastern Gulf will slow the overall recovery in the Gulf and places a disproportionate burden of stock recovery on the western Gulf.
What is the economic value of red snapper fishing for Texas?
Overall retail sales (direct expenditures) by Texas saltwater anglers were $1.1 billion in 2011. These expenditures lead to a total economic impact for Texas of $2 billion. Saltwater angling supports the equivalent of 16,819 full-time jobs in Texas and generates more than $107 million in state and local tax revenue, in addition to $144 million in federal tax revenue. While there are no figures available specifically for red snapper fishing, we can estimate the loss of retail sales through various data sources at approximately $1 million per day.
What is needed to solve this problem and reduce tension between state and federal regulations?
What’s needed is greater flexibility in managing the fishery. The issue centers on how to maintain the rebuilding of fish stocks that are mandated under the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act while also allowing some level of flexibility for states to consider the economic impacts to local and small businesses and the impact these businesses have in coastal communities and across the state.