Florida's signature fish, red snapper, has been over-harvested for years in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Grouper hasn't fared a whole lot better. But recent changes to the law governing federal fisheries have had the salutary effect of improving at least the red snapper's recovery.
A review issued this month by the Science Committee of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council found the red snapper population showing some signs of recovery, thanks to catch limits for commercial and recreational fishers. Commercial fishers have stayed within their quotas and reduced discarded by catch. Shrimpers have reduced the incidental catch of young red snapper by close to 80 percent.
But recreational anglers, says the review, are exceeding their quotas. The committee is calling for increased enforcement for recreational fishing to keep the recovery program on track. The review's findings show that managing fisheries using the best science available can work.
Now the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is meeting this week to consider closing some areas entirely to red snapper harvesting and taking similar steps to protect eight other species -- including the endangered warsaw grouper and speckled hind. The council should approve these measures now to give these species a chance in the South Atlantic, a huge fishing destination.
Red snapper desperately need time to build up their numbers. They spawn more the older they get, and they can live up to 54 years. In the 1950s the average age of a caught snapper was 12 years. Their average size was a hefty 19 pounds. Today, the average snapper caught is 1 to 2 years old and weighs a scant 1.8 pounds. That's pitiful.
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