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Hot Topic: Red Snapper

Beginning with the 2020 season, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will set seasons, bag and size limits, and other management measures for private recreational red snapper fishing in Louisiana’s state and federal waters (out to 200 nautical miles) adjacent to our coast. The public will be able to provide input on these measures. Stay tuned for additional details about the 2020 season. Louisiana’s recreational red snapper fishermen should see fishing seasons similar to what they experienced in 2018 and 2019.

 

Current Season and Regulations

Stay tuned for additional details about the 2020 season. Louisiana’s recreational red snapper fishermen should see fishing seasons similar to what they experienced in 2018 and 2019.

 

Recreational Landings Update

LDWF tracks recreational landings of saltwater fish through LA Creel. LDWF provides these landings data to NOAA Fisheries to estimate Gulf-wide harvests. All landings, whether from state or federal waters are counted toward the harvest quota.

Near-real-time landings data allow managers to close fishing seasons when actual landings approach the allowed harvest quota for a given year. This also allows managers more flexibility to respond to weather or other environmental events that are not predictable and provides improved data for stock assessments so that changes in the stock are better understood.

2019 Recreational Red Snapper Landings Data

Week Beginning Date End Date State Charter Private Total Week's Percentage of Allocation Running Total Running Percentage of Allocation
21* 5/20/2019 5/26/2019 987 76,622 77,609 10% 77,609 10%
22* 5/27/2019 6/2/2019 1,609 103,481 105,090 13% 182,699 22%
23* 6/3/2019 6/9/2019 1,309 10,944 12,253 2% 194,952 24%
24* 6/10/2019 6/16/2019 1,892 87,701 89,593 11% 284,545 35%
25* 6/17/2019 6/23/2019 647 8,458 9,105 1% 293,650 36%
26* 6/24/2019  6/30/2019 8,150  39,113 47,263 6% 340,913 42%
27* 7/1/2019  7/7/2019   2,472 118,270 120,742 15% 461,655 57%
28*  7/8/2019 7/14/2019 0 0 0% 461,655 57%
29* 7/15/2019  7/21/2019 2,646  45,180 47,826 6% 509,481 62%
30* 7/22/2019  7/28/2019 146  19,502   19,648 2% 529,129 65%
31* 7/29/2019  8/4/2019  0 96,228 96,228 12% 625,357 77%
32* 8/5/2019  8/11/2019  1,105 61,198 62,303 8% 687,660 84%
33* 8/12/2019  8/18/2019 14,795  23,330 38,125 5% 725,785 89%
34* 8/19/2019  8/25/2109  300 7,764 8,064 1% 733,849 90%
35*  8/26/2019 9/1/2019 16,609  6,826 23,435 3% 757,284 93%
36*  9/2/2019 9/8/2019 0 7,925 7,925 1% 765,209 94%
37* 9/9/2019  9/15/2019 0 0 0 0% 765,209 94%
38*  9/16/2019 9/22/2019  0 0 0 0% 765,209 94%
39*  9/23/2019 9/29/2019 0 1,920 1,920 0% 767,129 94%
40*  9/30/2019 10/6/2019  0 10,626  10,626 1% 777,755 95%
41* 10/7/2019  10/13/2019 0 0 0 0% 777,755 95%
42* 10/14/2019  10/20/2019 0 1,325 1,325 0% 779,080 95%
43* 10/21/2019  10/27/2019 0 0 0 0% 779,080 95%
44* 10/28/2019  11/3/2019  0 6,347 6,347 1% 785,427 96%
45*  11/4/2019 11/10/2019 0 2,797 2,797 0% 788,224 97%
46* 11/11/2019  11/17/2019 0 1,893 1,893 0% 790,117 97%
47* 11/18/2019  11/24/2019 0 0 0 0% 790,117 97%
48** 11/25/2019  11/31/2019 0 4,653 4,653 1% 794,770 97%
49**  12/1/2019 12/7/2019 0 5,566 5,566 1% 800,336 98%
50** 12/8/2019  12/14/2019 0 454 454 0% 800,790 98%
51**  12/15/2019 12/21/2019 0 0 0 0% 800,790 98%
 52** 12/22/2019  12/28/2019 0 47,550 47,550 6% 848,340 104%
Average Weekly Landings 1,646 24,865 26,511 3%  

*Season ran weekends-only (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, including the Monday of Memorial Day, Thursday of Fourth of July, Monday of Labor Day, and Monday of Veterans Day).
**Season changed from weekends-only to seven days a week as of 12:01 am on 11/28/2019. The season closed at 11:59 pm on 12/31/2019.

These landings data (in pounds) are preliminary and subject to change. The historic rate projection is based on average harvest rates and weights by state charter anglers in state waters and private recreational anglers in state and federal waters from 2015 to last year. The current rate projection is based on the harvest rates and weights by state charter anglers in state waters and private recreational anglers in both state and federal waters observed during last year’s red snapper season. These projections are intended to provide general guidance as to what might occur in the future based on what occurred in the past. Weather conditions and other factors could impact landings rates and change when landings reach Louisiana’s quota.

Background

At one time depleted, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper population has been recovering quickly. However, as the population grew, recreational fishing seasons in federal waters got shorter. This was due to a number of reasons including increased catch rates, ­increased recreational fishing effort, extended state fishing seasons, larger fish, and insufficient monitoring of recreational landings.

In response to this issue, fishery managers have been working to find new solutions for responsibly managing the recreational red snapper fishery and increasing opportunities for recreational fishermen to harvest red snapper. One of the most widely supported solutions has been for the federal government to give the individual Gulf states authority to manage the recreational fisheries in both state and federal waters off their coasts. State management of the private recreational red snapper fishery allows states more flexibility to manage their fisheries to their recreational fishermen’s preferences and provide recreational fishermen better access to red snapper fishing in the Gulf. In April 2019, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council delegated management authority for private recreational red snapper fishing to each state beginning with the 2020 season.

Under these management changes, red snapper will technically remain a federally managed species and federal limits on how much can be harvested (quota) still apply. Each Gulf state is allocated the portion of the private recreational red snapper quota; Louisiana’s share is 19.12%. Any Gulf state that exceeds its quota in a season to pay it back the following year or, if there is an underage, the state can carry over uncaught quota the following season.

LDWF is currently working on addition solutions including increasing scientific sampling of red snapper and securing additional artificial reefs in red snapper habitat.

Increasing scientific sampling of red snapper

While the current level of scientific sampling of reef fish off Louisiana provides adequate data to assess red snapper on a Gulf-wide basis, it is insufficient to provide enough data to perform a sound Louisiana-specific stock assessment for red snapper. Currently, NOAA Fisheries mostly samples outer natural banks and bottom breaks. As part of the annual Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP), LDWF conducts vertical line surveys to gather data on red snapper at oil and gas platforms and artificial reefs off Louisiana and provides data from these surveys to NOAA Fisheries to use in their stock assessments for red snapper. However, the coverage of critical reef fish habitats needs to be improved to better understand the red snapper population off of Louisiana’s coast. While current stock assessments incorporate information from oil and gas platforms and artificial reefs, both through existing scientific sampling and recreational and commercial catch data, additional scientific sampling will increase the ability to observe changes in the age structure and biomass of reef fish on those habitats.

In 2018, the Louisiana Legislature mandated that LDWF provide an absolute abundance estimate for harvest-sized red snapper (16 inches total length or larger) in Louisiana and adjacent federal waters. LDWF has contracted with LGL Limited (an environmental research and consulting firm) to implement a robust research protocol and study design that will result in a scientifically defensible total abundance estimate of red snapper in Louisiana and adjacent federal waters. Researchers will conduct hydroacoustic, video, mark/recapture, and biological surveys at 106 sampling sites in the Gulf off of Louisiana. Fieldwork is expected to being in early 2020 and conclude within a single sampling season, with a final report to follow in early 2021.

Securing additional artificial reefs in red snapper habitat

In recent years, there has been a decrease in donations of oil and gas structures to the Louisiana Artificial Reef Program. A moratorium on accepting structures as Special Artificial Reef Sites (SARS) may have contributed to this decline. However, in April 2017, the Artificial Reef Council revoked the SARS moratorium at LDWF’s request. This action will allow LDWF greater flexibility to take advantage of unique opportunities to reef decommissioned oil and gas structures in-place, rather than moving them tens of miles into a planning area. LDWF will focus on oil and gas structures in known red snapper habitat but lifting this moratorium will also allow for preservation of important offshore habitat for other valuable fisheries species. In addition, LDWF will continue to urge oil and gas companies to use less lethal methods (e.g., cutting rather than explosives), where and when appropriate, to sever the legs of their structures below the mudline to reduce mortality of fish in the area.

 

Current Stock Status and Assessments

Updated NOAA Fisheries Stock Assessment

In April 2018, NOAA Fisheries released an updated stock assessment for Gulf red snapper. According to this latest assessment, the Gulf red snapper stock is no longer overfished and overfishing is not occurring, but it has not yet rebuilt to the established Gulf-wide biomass target. The Gulf red snapper stock continues to increase; however, a healthy population requires an appropriate mix of fish of different ages. The Gulf red snapper population still contains too few older (greater than 20 years) individuals. Red snapper can live a long time (almost 60 years), and the older red snapper females produce more, higher quality eggs. Restrictions on harvest of red snapper are designed not only to increase red snapper abundance but also to allow red snapper to reach older, potentially more productive ages so the population can fully rebuild.

Sea Grant Population Estimate Project

With a growing red snapper population, fishermen are seeing more and larger red snapper in the Gulf and have challenged the results of recent stock assessments. In response, Congress awarded Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant $10 million for a two-year project to independently estimate the population size of red snapper in U.S. waters of the Gulf. From 2017 to 2019, fisheries experts from the Gulf and beyond, including LDWF, participated in this project, dubbed the Great Red Snapper Count. Expected to be released in spring/summer of 2020, results from this project will be compared with stock assessment results to see how and why there are any differences between them. The goal of this project is to ensure the best management possible for this fishery.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do red snapper stock assessments include data collected on red snapper populations at oil and gas platforms and artificial reefs located off Louisiana?

Yes, federal stock assessments include both fisheries dependent (harvest by fishermen) and independent data (biological information gathered by scientists) collected from these structures.

  • Through LA Creel, LDWF closely monitors recreational landings of red snapper. The majority of red snapper landed in Louisiana are caught at platforms and other artificial structures. LDWF provides these landings data to NOAA Fisheries. Similarly, a portion of commercial landings come from oil and gas platforms as well as artificial reefs. Commercial landings are monitored through LDWF trip tickets and reporting to NOAA Fisheries. These landings data (fisheries dependent data) are a critical part of their stock assessments.
  • LDWF participates in annual SEAMAP surveys. Under this program, researchers across the Gulf sample different types of habitat with four types of fishing gear to capture fish samples at various life stages. Researchers use vertical lines to sample reef fish like red snapper at oil and gas platforms, artificial reefs, and natural hard bottom areas in the Gulf, including Louisiana waters. From 2011 to 2018, 1,162 vertical line drops have caught more than 4,500 red snappers. Red snapper are also sampled in SEAMAP groundfish and bottom longline surveys. Population and other biological data collected from these surveys (fisheries independent data) are supplied to NOAA Fisheries to help them estimate populations of red snapper and other reef fish (through stock assessments).

As the red snapper population in the Gulf grew, why did the private recreational red snapper seasons in federal waters get shorter?

Several factors affected the length of the federal season:

  • Catch rates more than doubled since 2007 due to an increase in numbers of both fishermen and fish.
  • The average red snapper is now more than twice the average size in 2007, increasing from 3.3 pounds (2007) to 8.11 pounds (2018). Catching larger fish means that fishermen harvest their annual quota (measured in pounds) more quickly.
  • The Council and NOAA Fisheries established a 20% buffer on the recreational quota. This means that the annual recreational catch quota was decreased by 20%. The intention of the buffer was to decrease the chance of overfishing as it was not possible for NOAA Fisheries to predict what the actual harvest would be in advance of the season. (Note that the buffer was not applied to Louisiana’s 2018 and 2019 EFP seasons; the Commission can choose whether or not to fish with a buffer during the 2020 season and beyond.)
  • If recreational harvests exceeded the annual quota, any excess was deducted from the quota for the following fishing season. This is called a payback provision.
  • As states extended their recreational red snapper seasons starting around 2012, a large fraction of the total harvest came from state waters. NOAA Fisheries had to account for this harvest when setting federal seasons. For example, when they set the 2017 recreational red snapper season, they estimated that 81% of the annual catch target would be caught during state seasons, leaving less than 600,000 pounds for the private recreational federal season.

How is the total catch of Gulf red snapper allocated between the recreational and commercial fishing sectors?

In 1990, Amendment 1 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan allocated the total catch of Gulf red snapper to the recreational and commercial fishing sectors at 49% and 51%, respectively, based on 1979-1987 Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey and commercial landings data. The Council changed this allocation to 51.5% recreational and 48.5% commercial for the 2016 season, but the courts overturned that action. The allocation has now reverted back to the original 49% recreational and 51% commercial split. The Council will be discussing allocation again after the results of the Great Red Snapper Count are released and the Government Accountability Office report on allocation is published.