The Politics of Red Snapper

Story and Photos by Ron Childs

Ron Childs and Jimmy Nicholson at Mexico BeachThe crown jewel of the Gulf of Mexico has to be the red snapper. Considered to be the most economically important fish in the Gulf of Mexico, the red snapper is prized by both commercial and recreational anglers due to the firm texture, moist white meat, and mild flavor. It has been called the most sought after fish in the Gulf of Mexico. There are over one million recipes for red snapper on the internet.

But will there be a federal season this year in federally controlled water which is out past the 9 mile mark? No one knows. The Gulf states control out to 9 miles, but the federal government controls out past that 9 mile mark. In 2015 the federal red snapper season was only 9 days for recreational anglers while the State of Florida allowed 70 days of fishing for red snapper fishing in state waters. Why the big difference between state and federal days to fish?

For 2016 the State of Florida has proposed a 78 day season giving Saturdays and Sundays in May starting May 7, then daily from May 28-July 10, and every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in September and October.

The fishing out past nine miles is in federally territory controlled by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council which is one of eight regional Fishery Management Councils established by the federal Fishery Conservation and Management Act of l976. No one knows what the Gulf Council will decide for federal waters in 2016.

The Gulf states and the federal government have a basic disagreement about exactly how many red snapper are out in the Gulf that can be caught and taken home. The states see large numbers of snapper and the federal government says there are not so many. This is controversial because there is very little scientific data on the numbers and even marine scientists like Dr. Robert Shipp state that there are more red snapper than ever in the Gulf due to artificial reefs and oil and gas wells. This is a highly contentious subject and there are numerous heated arguments about how the federal limits hurt the economic status of numerous entities that depend on the federal season to survive.

But back to red snapper, they love to hang out around structure. They stay close to the bottom around rocks, ledges, wrecks, oil and gas rigs, and artificial reefs. Reefs provide protection from larger predators like bull sharks, and also provide a variety of fish to eat as the red snapper grows and gets larger. Red snapper like to eat smaller fish, squid, crabs, shrimp, and eels. They stay in groups or schools so there are often large groups of snapper on a given piece of structure.

Red snapper can live up to 50 years and weigh up to 50 pounds. Serious fishing for red snapper started in the 1840’s around the Pensacola area.

With the beginning of red snapper season there will be a large influx of anglers coming from all over the southeast to get in on the short federal season which is only 10 days. Snapper can be found in water from 30 to 200 feet but have caught in water as deep as 300 feet.

The ramp at Mexico Beach will be filled with trucks and trailers starting May 7 when the state season begins and peak whenever the federal season opens. The parking lot will be filled and actually running over with no place to park. The start of red snapper season is a really big deal!

Mexico Beach is being called the Red Snapper Capital of Florida by many anglers who come to fish on the 200 new artificial reefs built by the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association since l997. This incredibly large number of structures produces some of the best red snapper fishing in the southeastern US. Come on down and get in on some really great fishing.

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