Red Snapper: A Success Story

By: Terry Tomalin

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A better-than-anticipated stock assessment has prompted federal officials to schedule a second red snapper season. The special season will open Oct. 1 and probably run for 21 days, or until the recreational quota is met.

Red snapper, prized for their delicate, white flesh, are a particularly hard species to manage because they live so long. They can live more than 50 years, which is why fishery managers try to protect the older fish.

Most of the fish caught by recreational anglers are 3-5 years old. But as snapper get older and bigger, they produce more and higher-quality eggs. The snapper fishery is currently about one-third of the way through a 30-year rebuilding plan devised by federal officials.

Red snapper is widely viewed as a conservation success story. The species was once on the verge of collapse in the early 1990s until marine biologists discovered that millions of juvenile red snapper died each year in shrimp trawls. Bycatch reduction devices on shrimp nets have helped rebuild the stocks, and now red snapper are common offshore, especially in areas such as off the coast of Tampa Bay, where red snapper virtually disappeared for decades.

The good news is the species is no longer being overfished, and the number of young red snapper dying in shrimp nets has dropped dramatically, as the nation's domestic shrimp fleet has shrunk, in part because of natural and manmade disasters, as well as competition from imported, farm-raised varieties.

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