Stop, the Light’s Red

Red snapper everywhere. All around Florida. What a fishery it must have been. Of course, that was before my time. So I’m dang sure it was before yours.

Veterans of past generations, however, chronicled masses of red snapper that ringed the edges of our continental shelf, seemingly inexhaustible.

Then, gradually and relentlessly, fishing pressure mounted as the bright crimson fish became the darling of markets in New York and elsewhere.

And the nation’s remarkable love affair with shrimp became, indirectly, the cause of death for billions of little red snapper that would have replaced those that went to market.

Shrimp trawls in the Gulf of Mexico are known to account for 80 percent of the overall red snapper mortality. Dead and discarded.

The trawl kill of the little guys is a major part of a scandalous bycatch that has drawn loud screams and promised changes, but little real action. The bycatch as usual is so bad that even if all fishing for red snapper, both commercial and recreational, were halted, it would take an estimated 100 years for the stocks to come back like those days of yore as the bykill continues.

Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs), you may recall, were supposed to reduce the throw-away mortality by 40 percent. In truth, the reduction worked out to be less than 12 percent.

As we fiddle while Rome burns, the commercially dominated federal management system wrings its hands and talks of more fishing closures and restrictions on anglers while refusing to face up to the bykill factor.

These are the same feds who came close to moving Gulf longlines out to 50 fathoms but wimped out when market forces put special pressure on their conflict-ridden allies on the Gulf Fishery Management Council.

Now, the Coastal Conservation Association is petitioning the Secretary of Commerce to rein in his errant National Marine Fisheries Service and do-little councils to stop the runaway bykill massacres that endure year after year.

Anglers who respect and enjoy the “true” or “genuine” red snapper (not to be confused with the many imitators, you understand) should join the CCA in demanding action, and eliminating the outrageous conflicts of interest while they’re at it.

Pockets of really good red snapper fishing still pop up, of course, but they serve as no more than sad reminders of a high abundance that was, and could be again.

FS