You say tuh-mey-toh, I say tuh-mah-toh.
Or rather, fishermen say there are tons of fish, regulators say there aren’t enough–what gives?
A reporter out of New Orleans recently tackled this conundrum related to Red Snapper. Recreational fishermen off the coast of Louisiana were reporting seeing lots of Red Snappers, and they’re large to boot. But regulations in that area say you can only keep 2 of these fish per day during the short 75-day fishing season.
Why such strict fishing regulations if sport fishermen are seeing so many fish?
Myron Fischer, a biologist from the Louisiana Marine Biological Laboratory, explained that the Red Snapper population “is rebuilding, but it’s not back yet.” Though the reports of 12-15 year old Red Snappers are a good sign, there need to be fish of various sizes — from small to very large — to indicate that there are enough young Snappers coming up through the ranks and that the Red Snapper are reaching the age where they reproduce (the “prime age” for Red Snapper spawning is 15 years old–that’s when they start to produce large quantities of eggs that contribute new Snappers to the population).
Fischer points out that strict regulations due to the federal Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation Act helped protect the Red Snapper populations. But Hurricane Katrina also provided some assistance–with so many Shrimp boats out of commission after the storm, young Red Snappers weren’t getting caught as bycatch in Shrimp nets and there weren’t as many commercial fishing boats targeting Red Snapper either.
This story does a great job illustrating perspective counts when you’re talking about fish populations. We can’t just rely on fishing reports from one area, or reports of one size of fish to know how a population is faring.
It’s important to look at large areas of water, the sizes and ages of all the fish you’re seeing, and not only regulations in place now, but the rules in the past. And taking a step back to get the full picture helps too–information on storms, changes in the size of the fishing fleet, and what’s happening with populations of this fish’s prey and predators all create a more complete fish tale.
(For the full story on Red Snapper, click here.)