There is little doubt that the most important offshore finfish species in the Gulf is the American Red Snapper; few fish are as popular, controversial and plentiful off the coast of Texas. I know that most of my year is spent gearing up for those scant few days in which the season opens up in Federal waters.
The most amazing thing about American Red Snapper is that our understanding of the state of this resource is so incredibly inconsistent and incomplete. Red Snapper are second only to shrimp in economic importance in the Gulf of Mexico. And, like shrimp, Red Snapper is also one of the most argued about resources. This fish’s history, peculiar habits and habitat (which is heavily debated), the span of its proliferation, its beneficial relationship with the energy industry and immense fan club of recreational fishermen and restaurateurs nationwide make the Red Snapper a perfect example of a much larger issue: how to balance the Gulf as a sustainable fishery and resource for both commercial and recreational fishermen. The arguments, which I will explore in this blog series, over the Red Snapper’s condition, resemble age-old religious conflicts: scientists, fisherman and conservationists alike split down the middle and the only thing that both sides can agree on is that it is unlikely that either point will ever be proven. All of this aside, the most important thing is that the Red Snapper are mounting a comeback, proving that well thought-out and scientific-based conservation programs do work.
As I was writing this, all I could think about was Sunday morning. Saturday night’s busy service, the second week’s airing of The Next Iron Chef on Sunday night…none of this mattered. Since NOAA announced in mid-September the re-opening of snapper season for the next two months (on weekends only), I’ve been planning this two-day outing. It has been almost five years since recreational fishermen have been able to snapper fish during the fall. The re-opening was announced in order for the recreational guys to catch the quota they did not reach due to the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill.
The re-opening will be a huge boost to the captains and guides of the charter industry as well as the recreational fishing industry in general. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the immense economical impact the recreational fishery has, here are a few numbers: 300,000 jobs in the Gulf Coast Region are linked to the industry and their hard work translates into $41 billion a year. That’s $8.6 million a day. And that shit ain’t peanuts.
Seas were like blue glass
On Saturday night, winds were 5 knots and seas 1 foot at 5.4 second intervals, with 8 second dominant wave intervals. What does that mean, you ask? It means an ocean of glass and it means that I was 50 to 60 miles offshore by the time you were making your morning coffee and busy catching Mahi, Cobia, Kingfish...
Big Kingfish cut down to size by an even bigger Bull Shark
Mike with a big Mangrove Snapper
and a fat limit of these ruby red beauties:
The day's total catch
In addition to the day’s catch it was a magical day on the water with multiple Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle sightings and acrobatic dolphin drafting off our head wake.
Green Sea Turtle
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
The American Red Snapper (Lutjanus Campechanus) is also known as Genuine Red Snapper, which pretty much says it all. The most common snapper in the Gulf, the American Red makes its home mainly from the northern Gulf to the Bay of Campeche. Their habitat is mainly between the depths of 50 to 300 feet mostly around reefs, rocks, ledges, wrecks, and offshore oil and gas platforms as they are strongly attracted to any sort of relief or obstruction. Previously thought to be more of a territorial species (one in which adults don’t move around much), recent studies show that only 26% of tagged fish are found in the same place one year later, moving an average of 19 miles before recapture. After a hurricane, tagged fish have been found up to 220 miles from their original location.
Red Snapper spawn over twenty times a year at four to six day intervals between late May and early October. Maturing at the size of around one foot, the smaller fish will produce roughly 500 eggs while the larger ones will belt out around 2 million. Although they are considered reef fish, very little of their diet consists of reef dwellers; instead they dine on mostly sea robins, pinfish, striped anchovies, cusk eels and pigfish. Their next favorite food is Stromapods (king shrimp or sea lice). Because of the Red Snapper’s popularity and successful marketing, there have been quite a few scandals of restaurateurs attempting to pass off other fish – like sheep’s head, black drum and other snappers -- as Red Snapper filet, not because of the quality, but because of the name.
The finished product: Crispy Skin Snapper, Sweet & Sour Swiss Chard, Tomato Brown Butter.
To Be Continued…