NEW ORLEANS — There are about three times as many red snappers as previously estimated in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a study released Wednesday about the popular game and table fish over which recreational anglers and federal regulators have fought for years. The $12 million Great Red Snapper Count estimated that the Gulf holds about 110 million adult red snapper — those at least 2 years old. A 2018 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine fisheries estimate was about 36 million. Clay Porch, director of NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center Director in Miami, said peer reviewers will be going over the science for the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, which is likely to consider revising quotas in April; Porch said Tuesday.
For various reasons, the quotas are unlikely to be tripled, he said.
The increased population estimate is almost entirely because federal scientists previously have relied on information from a fishery concentrated on natural and artificial reefs. At the same time, the new study also looks at the immense spaces in between, Porch said.
More than 60% of the red snapper were in areas that previously had not been checked, according to the study by 20 scientists from 14 universities and NOAA.
“Sand and mud make up the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico.” Still, it is dotted with remnant oyster reefs, salt domes, holes scoured out by currents, shipwrecks, fallen shipping containers, and other bottom features that would attract red snapper, lead researcher Greg Stunz of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi said Monday.
Suspended sediment makes the area west of the Mississippi River so murky that researchers designed new acoustic equipment for the project, Stunz said.
The report estimated that about 48 million adult red snappers swim off Florida, 29 million off Louisiana, 23 million off Texas, and 10 million off Mississippi and Alabama.
That included about 31 million in previously unchecked areas off Florida. An estimated 17 million live in such regions off Louisiana, 16 million off Texas, and 4 million off Mississippi and Alabama.
That means “we have a reserve that is not directly targeted” for fishing, Stunz said.
Will White, a fisheries population expert at Oregon State University, said that although he hadn’t been able to study the report in-depth, “it uses standard methods and takes appropriate precautions with the data.”
Porch said the population estimate increase wasn’t surprising. “Some of the higher commercial fishermen have been telling us for years there are fish `out on the mud,’” he said. He noted that the red snapper count received twice as much funding as NOAA for all its studies.