Gulf of Mexico
Anglers pull up to Zeke's Landing Marina in Orange Beach, Ala. (file photo)

AL - Red snapper frustrations boil over in Alabama as feds place strict limits on 2023 season

The latest dispute is part of a decades-long battle over the science behind red snapper assessments. It’s a scientific battle waged between federal and state bureaucrats that shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

“We need the federal government to get out of the way so all types of anglers can enjoy an abundant red snapper season,” said U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl, R-Mobile.

Some environmental groups are worried Alabama is overfishing its waters.

Meredith Moore, director of the fish conservation program at Ocean Conservancy, said 2022′s total pounds of red snapper caught in Alabama -- at 463,892 pounds -- was far lower than the previous two years. Recreational anglers caught up to 1.1 million pounds of red snapper in 2020.

“The local impacts to Alabama’s red snapper population are clear,” Moore said. “In 2022, despite the fishing season being open through the end of December, anglers weren’t able to catch anywhere close to as many fish as in the two previous years – a serious sign that fishing effort has been too high, and the local stock of red snapper has been depleted.”

Calibration and quotas

The differing opinions illustrate the complications behind assessing the red snapper stock in the Gulf of Mexico as Alabama prepares for a season with a sharply reduced quota than it has had in recent years. This year’s quota, or the federally imposed limit of red snapper fished out of the Gulf waters, is 558,200 pounds, a more than 50% drop from last year’s 1.1 million pounds.

Sean Powers, chair of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama, said that poor weather – especially during the Memorial Day weekend – along with high fuel prices kept the red snapper totals down last year. Powers was a leading researcher of the Great American Red Snapper Count, an assessment paid for by the federal government and completed in 2020 that strikes back at any notion that Gulf of Mexico red snapper is threatened from overfishing.

“No matter how you look at the state and federal system, and the number of days people went out was half and we caught half of the quota,” Powers said. “That’s straight forward. I don’t think it reflects on the health of the stock.”

The ongoing debate over the red snapper stock in Alabama will continue ahead of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s April meeting. At that time, the Gulf Council will discuss an amendment that could slightly bump up red snapper quotas this year. Even so, Alabama’s quota would rise only to 591,185 pounds, still a significant drop from last year’s quota.

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