Let States Manage Red Snapper, Scientist Says

Gulf of Mexico red snapper

Gulf of Mexico red snapper

They're everywhere! Gulf anglers can't get away from red snapper these days.Doug Olander

Let states manage stocks of red snapper and other non-migratory fish off their shores.

That's the basic message in an op-ed piece by Dr. Bob Shipp, chairman of the Dept. of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama and a 16-year member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. (Shipp is also a long-time Fish Facts expert for Sport Fishing magazine.)

Published June 3 in the Press Register, the piece — entitled "States Could Manage Finfish Better" — points out some fundamental realities, including:

• The remarkable abundance of red snapper in most of the Gulf these days (a testament both to stocks recovering under current fisheries laws and, according to Shipp and others, to the vast reef system thanks to thousands of oil-rig structures scattered about the Gulf);

• The remarkably short red snapper season for anglers despite their omnipresence — the shortest ever, at just 40 days;

• A generally very well-established and very impressive record among states when it comes to managing fishery resources, both freshwater and in their limited state waters (for most states within three miles of the coast, though for two Gulf states that extends to nine miles out).

One problem with a federal agency — NOAA Fisheries — managing species like snapper, Shipp writes, is that federal law requires the entire stock be managed with one approach. “Thus the entire red snapper population in the Gulf is treated the same,” he writes.

Instead, Shipp writes, “It would be better to have the individual states manage those stocks that are nonmigratory [such as snappers, groupers, triggerfish and amberjack] and extend the state jurisdiction throughout the EEZ off that state’s boundaries.” (The EEZ, or exclusive economic zone, are federal waters that extend out to 200 nautical miles.)

Shipp points out that snapper populations, distributions and habitat differ off various states, and each state would optimally manage its important nonmigratory species.

I have to agree. As noted, most states have done a good job of managing their fish stocks, not only to protect them but to maximize yield — and that, for anglers, translates into more fishing ops during the year.

That’s another (huge) benefit of state management: This could be a way out of the morass that many see with federal management of marine fish stocks.

Of course, at this point, it’s merely a proposal. But one well worth further thought and, with any luck, worth subsequent action.