Gulf anglers can contribute to the two-year study

An FS forum member with a keeper red snapper.

Independent fisheries studies are a major factor in management’s determinations of fish stocks, but the data is not always easy to come by. Studies are hard to fund, and may not be conducted consistently over the years if that funding disappears. But recently, there was news of a major study to be conducted on Gulf red snapper populations to develop data on the stocks that would certainly be useful in coming to a better, clearer understanding of the levels and dynamics of that species in the Gulf.

A team of university and government scientists, selected by an expert review panel convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, will conduct an independent study to estimate the number of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“American communities across the Gulf of Mexico depend on their access to, as well as the long term sustainability of, red snapper,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we study and manage this valuable resource.”

The research team, made up of 21 scientists from 12 institutions of higher learning, a state agency and a federal agency, was awarded $9.5 million in federal funds for the project through a competitive research grant process. With matching funds from the universities, the project will total $12 million.

“We’ve assembled some of the best red snapper scientists for this study,” said Greg Stunz, the project leader and a professor at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. “The team members assembled through this process are ready to address this challenging research question. There are lots of constituents who want an independent abundance estimate that will be anxiously awaiting our findings.”

Recreational anglers and commercial fishermen will be invited to play a key role in collecting data by tagging fish, reporting tags and working directly with scientists onboard their vessels.

“The local knowledge fishermen bring to this process is very valuable and meaningfully informs our study,” Stunz said.

Some stakeholder groups have expressed concerns that there are more red snapper in the Gulf than currently accounted for in the stock assessment. The team of scientists on this project will spend two years studying the issue. In 2016, Congress directed the National Sea Grant College Program and NOAA Fisheries to fund independent red snapper data collections, surveys and assessments, including the use of tagging and advanced sampling technologies. Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries worked collaboratively to transfer federal funds to Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant offsite link to administer the competitive research grant process and manage this independent abundance estimate.

“This research will be driven largely by university-based scientists with partners from state and federal agencies.” Stunz said. “This funding will allow us to do an abundance estimate using multiple sampling methods with a focus on advanced technologies and tagging for various habitat types.”

An important concern among experts is to what extent to the extensive artificial reef deployments in the upper Gulf contribute to red snapper stocks, compared to how much they contribute to red snapper catches per unit of effort. The project team will determine abundance and distribution of red snapper on artificial, natural and unknown bottom habitat across the northern Gulf of Mexico, and the data should help to add clarity to the issue of what roles artificial reefs play in the red snapper biology.

Get Involved in the Study

This study represents a terrific opportunity for recreational anglers and charter captains in the Gulf to get involved in catching and tagging red snapper for the better understanding of their stock status and biology. If you’d like to get involved in the study by contributing your efforts to tagging fish, you can contact Professor Greg Stunz at Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi branch. Much more information will be released soon on how to get involved. Prof. Stunz’s email is: Greg.Stunz@tamucc.edu

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