Red snapper sparks debate in the Gulf of Mexico
A red snapper being prepared for eating
August 21, 1999
Web posted at: 2:38 p.m. EDT (1838 GMT)
ORANGE BEACH, Alabama (CNN) -- Out in the Gulf of Mexico, red
snapper season is about to come to an end.
Federal regulations close down the season for recreational
fishermen on August 29. That makes charter boat operators --
who ferry the fishermen out to sea for a chance at bringing
home the popular fish -- unhappy.
"About 99 percent of our business is based on the red snapper
catch here," says charter owner Randy Boggs, "and when they
close the season down, it pretty much shuts our business
That's the idea, conservationists say. A decade ago, the red
snapper was severely over-fished, prompting the National
Marine Fisheries Service to institute a shorter season and
size and bag limits.
The measures have helped the snapper rebound -- and now
fishermen and the boat owners say it's time to lift the
Not so fast, says the government. It argues that easing
restrictions too hastily could undo the benefit snappers have
"Well, the harvest has increased, the number of fishing trips
has increased," said Andy Rosenberg, deputy director of the
NMFS. "But we want to make sure that we don't undermine the
The boat owners and fishermen scoff at such conservatism. The
problem, they say, isn't with recreational fishers, but with
what's called the shrimp industry's "bycatch" -- other sea
dwellers caught in the nets of shrimpers.
"We have pretty good evidence to support this, that the
largest source of mortality for red snapper occurs
independent of the directive fishery," says Jim Cowan,
fisheries oceanographer at the University of South Alabama in
Mobile. "It actually occurs via the shrimp fishery as part of
NMFS is aware of the bycatch problem too, and has imposed
rules requiring shrimp fishermen to install what's called
"bycatch reduction devices" to their nets. They create an
opening in the top of the net that allows fish like the red
snapper to escape.
But the shrimp fishermen say the BRDs are costly, and the
rule makes them a scapegoat for mismanagement of the red
snapper. And some of the fishermen agree: The federal rules
are unfair, they complain, because charter boats are not
And so, the use of BRDs -- several different types and their
effectiveness -- is also under review.
That leaves everyone looking for a compromise in the red
snapper debate, looking for a way to preserve the resource
and give everyone involved something of what they want.
Correspondent Leon Harris contributed to this report.
University of South Alabama Homepage
National Marine Fisheries Service
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