Red snapper study hopes to save more fish

Red snapper and fisherman

There is a shot of good news for offshore anglers. Federal waters, out past 9 nautical miles, will open for snapper fishing on June 1.

And now for the bad news. The recreational red snapper season will close June 11. That’s a 10-day run mixed in with one weekend. The daily limit will be two red snapper with a 16-inch minimum length limit. As usual, state waters will remain open year round.

Red snapper are one of the most valuable fish in the Gulf of Mexico, highly sought after by commercial fishermen and sport fishermen. Considered overfished in recent decades, the species has been subject to drastic reductions in the length of the fishing seasons and bag limits.

The Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has been awarded a federal Fisheries Innovation Grant totaling $209,326 to study pressure-related injuries often suffered by red snapper during catch and release fishing.

“This research funding will allow us to refine our understanding of the fate of released fish in the red snapper fishery, and help improve the chances of survival for these fish,” said Dr. Greg Stunz, CSSC Director.

Though many hooked red snapper are released back into the Gulf to aid in conservation efforts, they may not survive these pressure-related injuries. In addition to causing injury, barotrauma may make it difficult for the fish to return to deeper waters due to increased buoyancy, making the fish an easy meal for dolphins or other predators.

“Because of the depth at which they’re caught, as the angler reels the fish in, the rapid ascent to the surface causes gas to expand in its swim bladder and other body parts,” said Dr. Judd Curtis, with the CSSC project. “Injured fish may exhibit symptoms like an expanded abdomen, stomach protruding through the mouth and bulging eyes.”

Getting fish back under water quickly can help mitigate barotrauma injuries. In addition to studying these pressure-related injuries, this year long project will assess tools known as descender devices that attach to fishing gear

“These descender devices operate by quickly returning fish to depth and reversing the debilitating effects of barotrauma, greatly increases the chance of survival after catch-and-release,” says Curtis.

The study will assess the effectiveness of these devices and evaluate their compatibility with charter fishing operations.

“A high discard rate can greatly reduce the amount of fish that are available to catch or days in the season. Improved survival means faster recovery of this overfished fishery, and will ultimately improve access and secure more days on the water for all anglers,” Stunz said.

Boating accidents claim 610 lives

Right at 610 people died in recreational boating accidents in 2014, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. This marks the second lowest number of yearly boating fatalities on record.

The lowest number of yearly boating fatalities was 560 in 2013. The greatest number of boating deaths was recorded in 1973 when there were 1,754 fatalities.

The ticket to staying alive on the water is wearing a life jacket. About 78 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Here’s a little factoid to consider. Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. It was listed as the leading factor in nearly one-fourth of deaths.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is reminding boaters to always wear a life jacket, use an ignition safety switch, learn to swim, and take a boater education course. Anyone born on or after Sept. 1, 1993, must complete a boater education course to operate a personal watercraft or a boat with a horsepower rating of more than 15 hp.

“The high number of fatalities last year is a stark reminder of how a weekend can take a turn toward tragedy in the blink of an eye,” said Col. Craig Hunter, director of the law enforcement division for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “A day on the water in Texas should be all about the fun and following the basic rules of boating safety can help keep your loved ones from harm.”