The red snapper is a popular target of the sport fishing and commercial fishing industries throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Historical overharvesting resulted in an overfished red snapper population. Under current federal and state management measures the population is recovering, with full recovery expected by 2032.
Fisheries stock assessments provide science information to conserve and manage a fishery stock, such as red snapper. A stock assessment provides fisheries managers with information, such as if the fish stock is increasing or decreasing, how many fish can be harvested each year and what management actions have to be taken to allow the stock to rebuild to healthy levels if it is overfished. Red snapper stock assessments in the Gulf of Mexico region are conducted every three years with the next stock assessment scheduled for 2017.
There is some disagreement among resource managers, fishermen and environmental groups surrounding the 2014 and earlier stock assessments for red snapper. Much of the disagreement centers on the accuracy of estimating the red snapper population around oil and gas platforms, artificial reefs and other structures considered to be difficult to sample using traditional sampling methods.
This year, Congress directed Sea Grant to use $5 million for fisheries data collections, surveys and assessments independent of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Sea Grant is working closely with the National Marine Fisheries Service to make sure our research program results can be used to validate existing stock assessments or improve them.
To reduce the uncertainty among different fishing sectors and resource managers, a two-phase competitive research grants program is underway. Phase I will lead to valid and reliable experimental designs to use in a large-scale tagging study and/or estimates obtained through the use of advanced technologies, such as remotely operated vehicles. When completed, the experimental designs will be used in a Phase II research competition to implement a regional study to estimate absolute abundance of the red snapper by habitat type (e.g., natural bottom, artificial reefs, oil/gas platforms). The one-time estimate can be considered an independent Gulf-wide stock assessment and compared with planned 2017 red snapper stock assessment.