Red Snapper Surprise – Increased Fishing Participation

Just when it seems 2020 couldn’t get any whackier, recreational red snapper anglers were blindsided by NOAA/NMFS announcing that red snapper are once again being greatly overfished. The announcement described remedy in the form of a return to ridiculously short seasons in the waters off some gulf states in 2021, and possibly no season for in others. The measures would not apply to the commercial fishery. Now isn’t that a surprise?

But wait…what happened to Exempted Fishing Permits and State Management of red snapper that seemed to be working so wonderfully? Well, it appears the feds aren’t happy seeing rec anglers benefit from these programs, so they’re changing the rules. 

While once seriously depleted, the fishery recovered remarkably in a much shorter time than originally projected. Fisherman who spent time in the gulf saw it, hell everybody saw it, everybody but the feds, who are now inexplicably proposing to gauge the last three years of rec harvest against their historically inaccurate stock assessments rather than new science. 

All hope is not lost, though. We’ve said for many years the stock assessments upon which the feds were basing their allocation and season decisions were horribly flawed. Turns out they were and still are.

The Great Red Snapper Count came galloping over the horizon and will hopefully save the day. Members of the Harte Research Institute team briefed Congress on their preliminary findings in early-October and, like we’ve been saying…the feds don’t know how to count snapper.

The upshot of the briefing is that the feds have been under-counting red snapper by a factor of at least three, by failing to conduct sampling over low-relief structure, where more than half the population lives, according to the Great Red Snapper Count. There will definitely be a lot more to come on this matter – suits and countersuits, I’m sure – so stay tuned. Hopefully it will all get ironed out in time for the 2021 season.

On another subject, fishing participation in 2020 has risen sharply, which comes as no surprise as so many in the Texas workforce were idled and public schools were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are reporting a whopping 24% increase in resident fishing license sales over last year, handily eclipsing the prior record set in 2017.

Likewise, CCA Texas has reported greatly increased participation in their annual STAR Tournament. Total enrollment in the popular summer-long event rose to slightly more than 59,000, which netted the organization 14,000 new members, an increase of 34%. Of special note was the 24% increase in the number of youth angler participants.

No matter how whacky the world gets, thank God we can still go fishing.

Happy Thanksgiving!