All about red snapper and billfish

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Red snapper has become the “face” of our industry demands for fishery management changes as Congress moves forward the Modern Fish Act we support, while our efforts to conserve and better protect depleted billfish stocks continue to be successful.

First, I probably wouldn’t be blogging about this subject if I hadn’t just run out 76 miles round trip Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico, fished there for five hours and never saw a single red snapper. The only red was sunburn on my bald head.

Disappointed? You bet. But what’s really bothering me now are all these claims that red snapper are “recovered, abundant and everywhere.” I believed them, until now at least. My experience begs the question — just what is the true state of the red snapper?

Voila. Along comes Texas A&M University declaring it’s going to provide the answer as it’s just announced its “Great Snapper Count” will hit the Gulf waters this summer. More specifically, the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and its partners will head out for intensive data gathering. Moreover, they’re inviting all of us to stay informed through the launch of a new video series and website.

The Great Red Snapper Count is a multi-agency effort to estimate the number of Red Snapper in the U.S.-controlled waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A depleted stock led to dramatic reductions in both the fishing season and bag limits, and virtually cut recreational anglers out. But as the fishery has recovered, fishermen are catching a lot more and larger Red Snapper than in previous decades. The discrepancy between on-the-water observations and current assessments has led to mistrust in the data and contention between recreational anglers and federal fisheries managers.

In 2016, Congress made funding available to independently estimate the population size of Gulf red snapper. Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant has awarded a $10 million grant to HRI to lead the two-year project that will involve a multidisciplinary 21-member team with a goal of providing an independent estimate of red snapper abundance.

Finally, the researchers want to get word about the project to the fishing public who will later be invited to become active participants through a cooperative citizen science initiative. Impacted boat dealers and their customers are encouraged to learn more by subscribing to The Great Snapper Count’s and watch the first in a series of videos that discuss the snapper count, its purpose, methods and anticipated results.

Amend the Billfish Conservation Act

The Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House has advanced H.R. 4528, a bill supported by the boating industry (and other conservationists and anglers). This bill simply amends the industry-backed Billfish Conservation Act of 2012 that banned the importation into the continental United States of all billfish caught by foreign fleets.

But after the Billfish Conservation Act passed, questions arose over whether the same prohibitions on foreign-caught billfish imposed by the bill also applied to billfish caught commercially in Hawaii. If commercially caught billfish could be transported from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland, it would circumvent the intent of the conservation measure.

H.R. 4528, and an identical bill already passed by the U.S. Senate (S. 396), clarify that billfish landed in Hawaii must be retained there. Implemented as originally intended, the law should make it easier for the U.S. to establish a greater leadership role for the international protection of billfish.

H.R. 4528 is sponsored by Congressman Darren Soto, D-Fla. Also, a shout-out to the coalition of groups that supported the Billfish Conservation Act and this amendment, including: American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, OCEARCH, The Billfish Foundation and Wild Oceans.


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