Hook, Line, & Storytime: Red Snapper Recreational Management in Texas

Lizzie Harris | National Academy of Sciences Fellow, Policy and Education Team
Hook, Line, & Storytime: Red Snapper Recreational Management in Texas
Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is economically and culturally significant to the Gulf of Mexico region, with a longstanding history of both recreational and commercial fisheries management. Federal management strategies have undergone extensive changes over time. Currently, the recreational fishery is managed through the use of an Allowable Catch Limit (ACL) from the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council. Notably, the recreational fishery’s ACL is separate from the commercial and charter-for-hire catch limits. Stock assessments, which are studies that estimate the abundance of species such as snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, drives the ACL (both recreational and commercial) to prevent overfishing. 

Each state receives an ACL, which determines the maximum red snapper poundage the state’s recreational fishery can harvest in a given year. Individually, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida manage their seasons with this poundage in mind. State management arose as a potential solution to increase season length and prevent overfishing. As each state manages their recreational ACL, each state is able to set the opening and closing of the recreational red snapper season in their state and also federal waters. 

In Texas, state waters for red snapper are open year-round, and federal waters open June 1st. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) closely monitors catch to determine how long federal waters can remain open while maintaining the goal of the year-round state waters season. To do this, TPWD uses data from angler interviews to determine the pounds of red snapper harvested coastwide. Using past years’ fishing behavior patterns, TPWD projects how many more days the federal waters can remain open without overharvesting. Once federal waters close, TPWD continues to monitor state water red snapper harvest to ensure the state will remain at or below the ACL. If TPWD anticipates that the ACL will be exceeded, the fishery has to be closed. 

Recreational anglers are a crucial aspect of fisheries management in Texas. By participating in dockside creel interviews and reporting red snapper harvest in the My Texas Hunt Harvest app anglers are ensuring that TPWD has the most accurate data possible to determine statewide harvest. The Texas Creel Program has been collecting harvest data since 1975, and the state is proud of the robust long-term dataset and its use to fisheries management at a state and federal level.

Anglers can also help ensure the health of the fishery by using descending devices to return unwanted or undersized snapper and other reef fish safely. Texas regulations now require all commercial and recreational anglers to use a venting tool or rigged descending device on reef fish exhibiting signs of barotrauma. Barotrauma is a pressure-related injury fish experience when brought to the surface from deeper water. Some fish species are prone to barotrauma from shallower depths. Research shows that properly releasing reef fish, such as red snapper, reduces mortality. For more information on using descending devices, please visit returnemright.org
 
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