Florida Sea Grant Extension in Collier County

Welcome to the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Blog

This blog is an opportunity for me to share with you my extension outreach efforts and useful information to make you a more informed coastal citizen. If you have any questions about what you see, feel free to contact me at fluech@ufl.edu.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Overview of Florida's Commercial Snapper Fisheries

Image credits: Dianne Pebbles, SAFMC
Snappers (Family Lutjanidae) are a widely-distributed group of fishes that inhabit a diverse range of coastal and marine habitats. They are generalized predators characterized by the presence of strong jaws with prominent canine teeth. Generally smaller than grouper, they can range from a few pounds to over 60 pounds. Florida has approximately 15 snapper species; only half of which are targeted by commercial fishermen as they are prized for their firm texture and mild flavored meat.

2010 Florida Snapper Landings (lbs)
by FloridaCoast: Source:FWRI

Over the last decade, an average of 4.3 million pounds of snapper worth an average of $10.7 million were landed by Florida commercial fishermen. Despite the diversity of snappers found in Florida waters, approximately 90% of commercial landings come from three primary species; yellowtail, vermillion, and red snapper. Top landings for red and vermillion snapper occur in the Panhandle region, while south Florida dominates yellowtail landings. Much like grouper, the overwhelming majority of snapper are landed on Florida's Gulf coast in federal waters.

Snappers are heavily regulated with high demand from both the commercial and recreational sectors. Stocks are managed separately in the Gulf and Atlantic waters. State regulations typically mirror federal rules for consistency, but this is not always true. Management of the snapper fishery has been challenging due to a lack of data on both the resource and the fishery. Improved data collection during the 1980s and 1990s has provided more management information on some of the more commercially and recreationally valuable species, but lack of basic management data on many of the species still remains the major obstacle to successful management.

Status of Populations
Of Florida's three major commercial snapper species, yellowtail populations appear to be the most robust. They are neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing in either the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico. While vermilion snapper are abundant in the Gulf of Mexico, population levels are lower in the Caribbean and South Atlantic. They are not considered overfished, but are experiencing overfishing in this region; management measures are currently in place to end overfishing

* denotes the stock is undergoing a rebuilding plan.
Source: Gulf and S. Atlantic Fishery Management Councils
Perhaps no other snapper species has generated as much controversy surrounding its management than red snapper. Because of its high demand by both commercial and recreational fishermen, it has undergone intense fishing pressure for years and is one of the most tightly regulated fisheries in the United States. South Atlantic stocks of red snapper are overfished and experiencing overfishing. The decline in the Atlantic population is thought to have occurred since the 1950s with continued pressure in following decades. The 2008 stock assessment indicated that overfishing was occurring at 14 times the sustainable level. Based on this information, the entire snapper fishery was shut down in the beginning of 2010. Recent considerations to shut down large areas off of Florida and Georgia’s coasts to all snapper and grouper fishing was negated due to updated stock assessment data that indicated the stock was in slightly better shape than previously thought. It is expected, however, that the fishery will remain closed for several more years and a full recovery won’t be for several decades.

Source: NMFS
Since implementing a catch share program in 2007 the commercial Gulf red snapper fishery has seen a 40 percent increase in the total allowable catch. In fact, overfishing of red snapper in the Gulf ended in 2009. While still classified as overfished, the stock appears to be rebuilding faster than anticipated; even with the better than expected news, the stock is not expected to be fully recovered until 2032.

Several factors have contributed to the complexity associated with red snapper management:

Shrimp Trawl Bycatch
Historically, the unintended bycatch of juvenile red snapper in shrimp trawls contributed to a significant portion of snapper mortality. Over the past several years though, the domestic shrimp fleet has been significantly reduced due to fuel prices, competition with imports, and hurricanes. As a result, juvenile mortality levels have decreased, contributing to faster than expected rebuilding efforts. In addition, improved designs in Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) in shrimp nets is thought to have contributed to recovery efforts.
Discard Mortality
Because of strict regulations such as closed seasons and size and bag limits, many red snapper are released by fishermen. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of these released fish (approximately 40% of released recreational fish and up to 90% of released commercial fish) do not survive, which further hinders management efforts to rebuild the fishery. Recent regulations requiring the use of circle hooks, dehooking devices, and venting tool have helped to reduce release mortality of released fish.
Management Mandates
In 2006 the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act set new guidelines to end overfishing and rebuild U.S. fish stocks. The re-authorization directed managers to act quickly to implement regulations to reduce mortality and end overfishing of affected stocks. As a result, managers were forced to implement more stern actions to rebuild red snapper stocks.
Public Perception
Despite red snapper populations being considered overfished, many fishermen report catching more than ever before. Part of the issue has to do with the life history of red snapper. Red snapper are thought to live at least 50 years, and larger fish do not always mean older fish. Despite recent increases in overall numbers of red snapper, the age structure of the population remains truncated and there are not enough older fish to successfully repopulate the stock. Adding to the frustration of fishermen is that the ongoing snapper regulations have occurred during tough economic times, thus affecting their ability to earn a living from snapper fishing.



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