A Voice for Our Ocean

Statement: NMFS Gives States Opportunity to Test Their Hands at Responsible Red Snapper Management

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is moving forward with plans to allow all five states in the Gulf of Mexico to test approaches that would allow greater state involvement in the responsible management of private recreational red snapper fishing in federal waters. Chris Dorsett, Vice President of Conservation Policy and Programs at Ocean Conservancy, released the following statement:

“This is an opportunity for the states to demonstrate that they can play a more prominent role in the recovery and long term sustainability of red snapper by managing private recreational fishing to prevent overfishing and rebuild this iconic fishery.

“NMFS and the states have made a conscious decision to use five separate exempted fishing permits (EFPs) to manage private recreational fishing in federal waters this year and next instead of setting a traditional season. NMFS will distribute the private recreational quota among the Gulf States, which will exclusively manage the private recreational fishery for red snapper into waters well offshore of their coasts.

“In other words, the quota and where fishing is allowed is the same but with a different management vehicle. This approach has never been attempted at this scale. These plans must safeguard against overfishing or exceeding legally required limits and must not jeopardize rebuilding of iconic red snapper.

“The red snapper fishery continues to face serious challenges. Seasons for private recreational anglers in federal waters have been getting shorter and shorter over the last few years because of a series of complex issues – and regional managers have failed to develop solutions.

“Illegal management of the 2017 private recreational fishing season resulted in significant overfishing of this depleted stock. In order to ensure the long-term success of the fishery, the amount of snapper allowed to be caught by the states must be consistent with all requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Overfishing must be prevented, catch levels must be science-based, and the stock must be rebuilt on time.”


 Ocean Conservancy experts are available for comment.


  • The recovering red snapper fishery is at increased risk after the extended 42-day recreational season in 2017. According to the current landings figures, recreational fishermen caught 168% of the annual catch limit. Early calculations show that this overage will likely result in the overall Overfishing Limit (OFL) being exceeded by around 6%, which is sufficient to declare the stock as undergoing overfishing. This will be the first time overfishing has occurred on the stock since 2011.
  • On December 20, 2017, the federal district court for the District of Columbia issued a stay in Ocean Conservancy’s lawsuit against the Department of Commerce, NOAA and NMFS for its decision to illegally extend the 2017 private recreational red snapper fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico. The Department of Commerce effectively conceded the illegality of its actions by failing to defend the case on the merits. The decision by the judge to maintain jurisdiction over the recreational red snapper season for 2018 is an important step in ensuring that future management decisions are focused on sustainability and accountability, for the benefit of both the fish and fishermen.