Mild and buttery, red snapper spawns a Gulf war over fishing

Over-fished for years, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico has rebounded under federal regulation of the commercial catch that took effect in 2007. But this fisheries management success story has also spewed a bitter brawl between commercial boats and recreational anglers over who gets to fish and who should regulate the fishery. “How do we fairly divide the products of a finite sea while also respecting the constraints of biology?” writes Barry Yeoman in a story for FERN produced in partnership with Texas Monthly magazine.

“It’s gone from being just a desirable fish to this cultural representation of the conflict between commercial and recreational interests,” says anthropologist Ava Lasseter of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. The battle also pits state interests regulating coastal waters against federal regulators which manage waters further out in the Gulf.

The fishing season for red snapper for personal boats in federal waters opens today and runs only nine days. The short season counter-balances the long seasons allowed in state-controlled waters. Meanwhile, commercial boats can fish all year long in federal waters, as long as they stay under their total allotted quota. The total catch allotted to commercial boats is slightly lower than recreational anglers.  The commercial catch is carefully monitored while limits on recreational fishing are the result of estimates. But while the fish have rebounded, anglers are angry at the limitations placed upon them.

“All our solutions, so far, have been variations on a theme: We open the Gulf of Mexico to anyone who wants to fish it, then fiddle with the dials (season length, bag limit) and hope it doesn’t get overfished,” writes Yeoman.