The red snapper is just under halfway through a 27-year rebuilding plan, having been reduced to just 3 percent of historic levels by decades of overfishing. Even though the fish population is recovering, the rate of catch in the recreational sector is growing even more rapidly. Catch rates are two to three times higher than they were a decade ago, when the rebuilding plan began. Since fishermen can now find larger and more plentiful red snapper, they’re catching their quota more quickly.
The red snapper fishery is targeted by both commercial and recreational fishermen. Each year, based on scientific advice from an expert panel, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council sets an annual catch limit for the total amount of catch that can be sustainably caught while preventing overfishing and achieving the rebuilding target.
On June 19, 2017, political appointees at the Department of Commerce re-opened the private angler red snapper recreational fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico. This action added an additional 39 days of fishing on to the previously announced 3-day season. In the Federal Register announcement of the decision, the Department of Commerce stated, “the approach will necessarily mean that the private recreational sector will substantially exceed its annual catch limit, which was designed to prevent overfishing the stock.” The notice further states that, “this approach may delay the ultimate rebuilding of the stock by as many as six years.”
The Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law that manages our nation’s fisheries, requires science-based annual catch limits, set at levels that prevent overfishing, and that vulnerable fish populations be rebuilt to healthy levels in as short a time as possible.
On July 17, 2017, Earthjustice, on behalf of Ocean Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund, sued the Department of Commerce for sanctioning overfishing of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.