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Report: Gulf of Mexico home to 110 million red snapper, 3x more than previously estimated

Having an absolute abundance estimate may potentially change the way the Gulf of Mexico fishery is assessed by federal and state officials.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A three-year long red snapper population assessment has concluded that there are way more red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico than previously estimated. 

The assessment was led by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi. The study was led by Dr. Greg Stunz, HRI’s Chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health and director of the institute’s Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation. 

The research concluded that there are 110 million red snapper, about three times more than previously estimated, living in the Gulf of Mexico. It was previously estimated that the Gulf was home to around 36 million red snapper. 

Having an absolute abundance estimate may potentially change the way the Gulf of Mexico fishery is assessed by federal and state officials, a press release from the HRI said.

The findings are in a more than 300-page report issued Wednesday by researchers leading the Great Red Snapper Count, a three-year independent red snapper population assessment that brought together more than 80 scientists from 12 institutions of higher learning, with participation from state and federal agencies. 

Red snapper is one of the most popular fish species in the U.S. because the stock was once considered overfished. Anglers saw dramatic reductions in both the fishing seasons and bag limits for decades. 

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Challenges in obtaining abundance data on the number of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico were considered part of the issue, which prompted Congress to commission this independent study, a press release said.

While scientists found large numbers of snapper on previously well-known snapper habitats such as artificial reefs and natural banks, the Great Red Snapper Count made a major new discovery: what scientists called a “cryptic biomass” of red snapper in the Gulf. 

The Great Red Snapper Count sought to better understand snapper population on the previously uncharacterized and unmapped bottom habitat that makes up the vast majority of the Gulf, where scientists have suspected there might be more fish going uncounted. What they found was that this previously unassessed habitat harbors extraordinarily high number of red snapper, far more than anticipated. 

“This work exemplifies what HRI is all about,” said HRI Senior Executive Director Dr. David Yoskowitz. “Bringing the science forward to directly inform management decisions of our natural resources is critical, and this is one of the most important fisheries management issues in the region right now.”

Stunz said both the work and the results have already inspired similar studies for greater amberjack and red snapper along the southeastern United States. 

Federal fisheries officials must now study the data to decide how to integrate it into future management decisions. 

“This is just the beginning of future assessment meetings and activities with managing agencies, Scientific and Statistical Committees, the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council,” Stunz said. “These activities will facilitate direct incorporation of these data into the management process.”

For more about the Great Red Snapper Count including project and partner information, fact sheets, videos, and to download a copy of the report, visit SnapperCount.org.

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