After several years of debate mixed with rancor, among a handful of marine biologists and well-funded environmental organizations, federal fisheries managers declared Gulf of Mexico’ red snapper stocks no longer fall into the “overfished” classification.

The news came earlier this month when the 2017 Status of U.S. Fisheries Report was sent to Congress.

Red snapper were among five species removed from the “overfished” list. Others were the gray triggerfish in the Gulf of Mexico, yelloweye rockfish and Pacific ocean perch along the Pacific Coast and winter flounder on the Georges Bank.

Bluefin tuna was also on that listing in the western Atlantic, but the report read, “… due to significant scientific uncertainty, the status of this stock cannot be determined following a 2017 assessment.”

The report drew praise from the recreational fishing community, which has insisted red snapper stocks, especially stocks in the western Gulf of Mexico should have been off the overfished list at least three years ago, but that stocks in the eastern gulf dragged down the overall red snappers Gulf-wide.

Six other species, including sailfish in the western Atlantic, were removed from the “overfishing” list.

The report also identified 30 stocks on the “overfishing” list, and 35 species which continue to be overfished.

Overfishing is the direct result of catching too many fish of that species..

The report indicated 91 percent of the country’s “…marine fish stocks are not subject to overfishing and 87 percent are not overfished.”

“Ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks provides two key benefits for the American people,” NOAA Fisheries assistant administrator Chris Oliver said. “First, it strengthens the value of U.S. fisheries’ contribution to the economy, which in 2015 exceeded $208 billion dollars. Second, it supports the communities and marine ecosystems that depend on healthy fisheries.”

As a result of the 2017 upgrades, Oliver said the number of the country’s fish stocks listed as overfished has reached an all-time low after three West Coast rockfish species were rebuilt to sustainable levels. NOAA Fisheries also stated, “The number of stocks on the overfishing list also remained near all-time lows, an encouraging indicator that the U.S. fishery management system is achieving its long-term sustainability goals.”

Harte’s snapper

An increasing number of recreational fishermen know about the ongoing research work at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M’s Corpus Christi campus in southern Texas.

And Harte is asking recreational red snapper fishermen to give them more data to advance the recreational fishing push with regards to season length and catch effort.

The HRI folks know the contentiousness from a progression of ever-shortened red snapper seasons in federal waters has been allayed with 2017’s expanded 39-day season (after a three-day federal season) and this years Exempted Fishing Permit season.

While Louisiana’s Wildlife and Fisheries agency has used its LA Creel Program under the EFP to give its anglers a somewhat open-ended, seven-days-a-week season, Texas has set an 82-day recreational season, and Florida has set a 40-day red snapper season under the EFP.

Harte’s Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation has set up something it calls “iSnapper."

“Collecting timely, accurate data is extremely important to fisheries management,” said Tara Topping, Center iSnapper project leader. “We’re hoping with the 82-day season we can really get some good numbers. We need fishermen to get out there and input every single trip because that’s how we get accurate estimates using iSnapper.”

Topping said fishermen-supplied data fell as seasons have gotten shorter, and that’s led to continued challenges to come up with accurate harvest estimates during the short seasons. That lack of data is contributing factor to shorter seasons.

Topping said iSnapper, which is based on a 2011 pilot program to track charterboat catches, gives charter skippers and private anglers “… an easy, secure method of reporting their catch, and provide researchers with access to timely, accurate data about what private recreational anglers are catching.”

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