New red snapper study offers signs of hope

Research indicates red snapper stocks may be in better shape than previously thought.

Posted on February 25, 2009

A new study by Dr. Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama, and Dr. Steve Bortone, the new executive director of the Gulf Council, suggests that red snapper stocks in the Gulf of Mexico are far from decimated. In fact, their research indicates that snapper are thriving due to the creation of the largest artificial reef system in the world and they claim that evidence to the contrary may be the result of outdated scientific models.

Much of the Gulf of Mexico was once a featureless plain, but more than 5,000 oil rigs off Texas and Louisiana and 20,000 artificial reefs off Alabama have been added over the past 50 years. For a species such as red snapper, which tends to concentrate around hard formations, the new structures opened up thousands of square miles of new habitat and dispersed the population into areas outside its historical center. The research by Shipp and Bortone indicates that the models being used by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that show red snapper are severely overfished are not adequately accounting for the new structure.
 
“We’ve heard anecdotal evidence of a thriving Gulf red snapper population from our members in the fishing community for quite some time now,” said Patrick D. Murray, vice president of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). “This new report offers an interesting explanation for it. The research by Dr. Shipp and Dr. Bortone is an indication that the anecdotal evidence should be examined more seriously.”
 
The new study, published in Reviews in Fisheries Science, comes at a time when recreational anglers are limited to two fish per day during the shortest red snapper season ever in 2009, and offers hope that red snapper may be in far better shape than anyone thought.
 
“This research should be thoroughly examined by NMFS and other scientists,” said Dr. Russell Nelson, CCA Gulf Fisheries consultant. “Recreational anglers have proven that they are willing to follow the best science for the resource, but it is incumbent on federal managers to ensure that we do indeed have the best science available.”