Yesterday, Congress was briefed on the impressive preliminary findings of the Great Red Snapper Count. This unprecedented study was led by the Harte Research Institute and provides an independent and robust assessment of Gulf of Mexico red snapper stock abundance. According to a NOAA Fisheries statement on the study, the results indicate there are “up to three times as many” red snapper in the Gulf than previously thought.
The state-of-the-art study was funded through a $10 million Congressional appropriation, championed by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in 2016 and awarded by Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant. The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) was an early proponent of this study.
Over a two-year period, twenty-one scientists used a comprehensive suite of methods on high relief areas, like natural and artificial structures, and low relief areas, such as sand or mud bottom, to arrive at the absolute abundance estimate. Approximately two-thirds of the Gulf red snapper population was found to inhabit these low relief areas, which have not been historically sampled.
“The Great Red Snapper Count results validate what the recreational fishing community has long said – that there are a lot more red snapper in the Gulf than have been reflected in recent stock assessments,” said Kellie Ralston, ASA’s Southeast Fisheries Policy director. “We are grateful for the excellent scientific work by the Harte Research Institute and its partners, as well as Senator Shelby for recognizing the need to fund such a ground-breaking study.”
These landmark results must now be incorporated into red snapper management. With an interim analysis of stock abundance expected for the Gulf in early 2021, ASA is urging NOAA Fisheries to fully integrate the Great Red Snapper Count findings in this analysis to develop new catch estimates that provide enhanced and sustainable angler access to this iconic species.