Team set to study red snapper abundance

A red snapper is released by Sea Grant researchers during a study trip

A team of university and government scientists, selected by an expert review panel convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, will conduct an independent study to estimate the number of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we work to study and manage this valuable resource,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “Communities around the Gulf of Mexico depend on the availability of healthy red snapper stocks to support their livelihoods.”

The research team, made up of 21 scientists from 12 institutions of higher learning, a state agency and a federal agency, was awarded $9.5 million in federal funds for the project through a competitive research grant process. With matching funds from the universities, the project will total $12 million.

“We’ve really got the dream team of red snapper scientists for the Gulf of Mexico,” said Greg Stunz, the project leader and a professor at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. “The team members assembled through this process are really world-class scientists and red snapper experts. They are fully equipped to address this challenging research question.”

Recreational anglers and commercial fishermen will be invited to play a key role in collecting data by tagging fish, reporting tags and working directly with scientists onboard their vessels.

“The local knowledge fishermen bring to this process is very valuable and meaningfully informs our study,” Stunz said.

Some stakeholder groups have expressed concerns that there are more red snapper in the Gulf than currently accounted for in the stock assessment. The team of scientists on this project will spend two years studying the issue.

In 2016, Congress directed the National Sea Grant College Program and NOAA Fisheries to fund independent red snapper data collections, surveys and assessments, including the use of tagging and advanced sampling technologies. Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries worked collaboratively to transfer federal funds to Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant to administer the competitive research grant process and manage this independent abundance estimate.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for all red snapper anglers in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. “As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, I was proud to author and secure federal funding to address the need for better data, which is a fundamental issue plaguing the fishery. The management of red snapper must be grounded in sound science if we want to provide fair access and more days on the water for our anglers. It is my hope that these independent scientists will be able to accurately determine the abundance of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico once and for all.”

“This research will be driven largely by university-based scientists with partners from state and federal agencies.” Stunz said. “This funding will allow us to do an abundance estimate using multiple sampling methods with a focus on advanced technologies and tagging for various habitat types.”

“I’m pleased to see that the independent estimate is moving forward and including the expertise of recreational fishermen,” said Rep. John Culberson of Texas. “I will continue to work with Texas fishermen and NOAA to address the inadequate access to red snapper.”

The project team will determine abundance and distribution of red snapper on artificial, natural and unknown bottom habitat across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

“There are lots of constituents wanting an independent abundance estimate who will be anxiously awaiting our findings,” Stunz said. “Our team is thrilled to be awarded this funding. We’re ready to get started.”

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