Outdoors

How many red snapper are actually in the Gulf? These scientists are going to find out

Red Snapper season opens in state and federal waters on May 25. An exempted fishing permit allows private fishermen and charter boat fishers to go out to 200 nautical miles from the Mississippi Coast. Charter boats and other for-hire boats can fish for them in federal waters starting June 1.
Red Snapper season opens in state and federal waters on May 25. An exempted fishing permit allows private fishermen and charter boat fishers to go out to 200 nautical miles from the Mississippi Coast. Charter boats and other for-hire boats can fish for them in federal waters starting June 1. Sun Herald File

A team of 21 scientists from universities and state and federal agencies will attempt to answer one of the Gulf’s perplexing questions: How many red snapper are there?

“American communities across the Gulf of Mexico depend on their access to, as well as the longterm sustainability of, red snapper,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a press release announcing the formation of the team. “I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we study and manage this valuable resource.”

The panel convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium was awarded $9.5 million in federal funds for the project through a competitive research grant process and will receive another $2.5 million from the universities.

“We’ve assembled some of the best red snapper scientists around for this study,” said Greg Stunz, the project leader and a professor at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University — Corpus Christi. “The team members assembled through this process are ready to address this challenging research question. There are lots of constituents who want an independent abundance estimate that will be anxiously awaiting our findings.”

The scientists want recreational and commercial vessels to help them by tagging fish, reporting tags and working directly with scientists aboard their vessels, the release said.

“The local knowledge fishermen bring to this process is very valuable and meaningfully informs our study,” Stunz said.

Recreational fishermen in South Mississippi have for years criticized the federal government’s accounting of red snapper and its ever shrinking season. They welcome the new study.

“This is a congressional response to complaints recreational anglers have had about federal data and analysis that resulted in the three-day season this past year (luckily extended with indication historic catches in some states),” said F.J. Eicke, chairman of the governmental relations committee of Coastal Conservation Association Mississippi. “The federal government, particularly the Gulf Council and National Marine Fishery Service working the Gulf, has put forth some catch data that simply exceeds the feasible, and then the Gulf Council uses this analysis to put unreasonable limits on recreational anglers that our observations simply know are unrealistic.”

Eicke likes the composition of the team, too.

“Dr. Greg Stuntz of Texas A&M is an outstanding academic and researcher. He serves on the Gulf Council and is head of a center at TAMCC that is focused on recreational sports fish. Cannot say enough good things about him,” he said. “USM/GCRL has two excellent representatives: Drs. Robert Leaf and Eric Saillant. Both are known to me and CCA has supported their research in the past.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

Meet the team

Members of the team that will try to learn how many red snapper are in the Gulf of Mexico:

▪ Greg Stunz, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M University — Corpus Christi

<bullet> Will Patterson, University of Florida

<bullet> Sean P. Powers, University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

<bullet> James Cowan, Louisiana State University

<bullet> Jay R. Rooker, Texas A&M University at Galveston

<bullet> Robert Ahrens, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

<bullet> Kevin Boswell, Florida International University

<bullet> Matthew Campbell, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

<bullet> Matthew Catalano, Auburn University

<bullet> Marcus Drymon, Mississippi State University

<bullet> Brett Falterman, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

<bullet> John Hoenig, College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

<bullet> Matthew Lauretta, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

<bullet> Robert Leaf, University of Southern Mississippi

<bullet> Vincent Lecours, University of Florida

<bullet> Steven Murawski, University of South Florida

<bullet> David Portnoy, Texas A&M University — Corpus Christi

<bullet> Eric Saillant, University of Southern Mississippi

<bullet> Lynne S. Stokes, Southern Methodist University

<bullet> John Walter, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

<bullet> David Wells, Texas A&M University at Galveston

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