Red Snapper's Plight

  • March 31, 2009

Red snapper is in peril in the U.S. southern Atlantic Ocean, from North Carolina to Florida, due to nearly a half century of overfishing. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently approved a moratorium on recreational and commercial red snapper fishing for six months, with the possibility of a six-month extension. The ban, awaiting final approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce, could go into effect in June. A long-term plan to restore red snapper to healthy population levels is also under development.

THE PROBLEM: 

  • South Atlantic red snapper is at less than 3 percent of 1950 levels.*
  • Red snapper has been overfished at 14 times the sustainable level since 1960.* 
  • Snapper normally live up to 54 years, but the most recent research found few fish older than 10. This indicates older fish, which reproduce many times during their lifetimes, are caught long before they can multiply in the greatest numbers.*

*Source: South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

WHAT'S AT STAKE: 

Red snapper are a popular catch for tourists and locals. Florida is known as the snapper capital, and north Florida is a hot spot.

In all four southeastern states (FL, GA, SC, NC) during 2006, a total of about 150,000 pounds of snapper were caught, down from a 1966 high of nearly 900,000 pounds – partly a result of fishing limits but also a sign of how few older, large snapper remain. Commercial boats hauled in less than half the recreational catch.

Under current trends, snapper could face commercial extinction, meaning they won't be worth fishing for. Should that happen, fishermen may be out of business for good, and tourists will have to fish elsewhere for red snapper.

WHAT'S BEING DONE: 

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved a rule to halt commercial and recreational red snapper fishing for six months with the possibility of a six-month extension. The rule, pending final approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce, could go into effect as early as June.

A long-term recovery plan, expected to be finalized this year, could include an even longer moratorium and may encompass more fish, such as grouper, because a large number of red snapper are caught by accident during gag grouper fishing. The red snapper often do not survive catch and release practices.

DATA:

The most recent research is available from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council: http://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/sedar/download/S15 SAR 1 Revised 3-09.pdf?id=DOCUMENT (PDF). Contact: Council public information officer Kim Iverson, 843-571-4366: kim.iverson@safmc.net.