Red Snapper Management in the Gulf of Mexico


The red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico is managed by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (Gulf Council) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). Once considered “overfished” from the late 1970’s through the early 2000’s, the red snapper population has turned the corner and is rapidly rebuilding in the Gulf of Mexico. Although not well publicized, much of that rebuilding success is the product of reduced juvenile snapper mortality as a result of a reduction in shrimp trawling effort and the relatively recent requirement of bycatch reduction devices on their nets. Ironically, as the population grows both in size and abundance, the recreational sector is allowed fewer and fewer days to fish each year due to an inappropriate management model, inaccurate data and overly conservative regulations.


Since the 2007 reauthorization of MSA, which included a provision that created an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) - also known as a “catch share” - for the commercial sector and required annual catch limits and accountability measures separately for both the commercial and recreational sectors, red snapper management has become increasingly more contentious. Currently, the total allowable harvest of red snapper is annually allocated at 51 percent to the commercial sector (which constitutes less than 400 commercial fisherman who each “own” shares of more than half of this Public Trust resource) and 49 percent to the recreational sector. These percentages are derived from survey data that are 30-years old, and the recreational component of that former survey has since been replaced because of gross inaccuracies. As the average size of red snapper continues to increase, recreational anglers are projected to reach their hard-poundage quota more quickly, thus causing the seasons to be shorter each year to stay under the quota. This backwards approach to managing the recreational sector has prompted the Gulf States to go non-compliant with the federal seasons and extend the snapper season in their state waters to salvage some access for recreational anglers.

In 2013, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service responded to the states going non-compliant with an emergency rule process to reduce the recreational season in federal waters to nine days off Louisiana’s coast and twelve days off the Texas coast. Both states filed lawsuits and a federal court overturned the action. Conversely, litigation from the commercial fishing sector resulted in a 2014 U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling that required the Gulf Council to implement accountability measures (AM’s) on the recreational sector for annual quota overruns. The outcome of that suit has resulted in even shorter seasons because of an additional buffer placed on the total pounds of red snapper available for harvest by anglers, despite the healthiest population of red snapper in recorded history. The fact that red snapper management is now being decided by the courts is indicative of a significant problem with how the fishery is being managed and how MSA is being interpreted in general.

As a solution to the abbreviated fishing season in 2014, at least for the charter/for-hire industry, the Gulf Council passed Amendment 40 at their October 2014 meeting, despite opposition from all five Gulf States, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC), the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Executive Council and the Mississippi Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus. Also known as “sector separation,” Amendment 40 divided the recreational angler’s 49 percent share of the snapper fishery roughly in half between private recreational anglers and charter/for-hire operators. This is not a solution for the recreational sector, but rather an amplification of the problem of trying to apply a commercial management model to (now) two different components of the recreational sector. Amendment 40 sets a dangerous precedent for all mixed-sector fisheries and effectively pits recreational anglers and the charter/for-hire industry against one another.

Recent Activity

  • H.R. 3094 Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act – introduced by Congressman Garret Graves in 2015, and based on an agreement reached by all five Gulf States fisheries directors, would give management authority to the five Gulf states.[1] The states have proven they can collect more accurate data, both fishery dependent (estimates of angler harvest) and independent (actual population data), which would allow for a more efficient, robust management strategy, increased access by the American public while maintaining a healthy and growing red snapper population. The bill passed out of committee but did not see floor action prior to the expiration of the 114th Congress[2]
  • A new red snapper bill was introduced in 2017 in both the House (H.R. 3588) and Senate (S.1686) by Representative Graves and Senator Cassidy that would extend state management jurisdiction to 25 miles, instead of the current 9 miles, for the purposes of red snapper management. While the states would still be bound by the problematic, Gulf-wide hard-pound quota set by NMFS and the Gulf Council, the legislation offers a first step towards full state management of the fishery.
  • Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization
    • The recreational angling community is advocating for clarification in the next MSA reauthorization that the Councils and NMFS can use more appropriate management models, such as a rate of harvest, instead of the commercial hard-poundage quota system currently in place in the Gulf.
    • The recreational angling community is seeking a provision that requires periodic reexamination of allocations based on peer reviewed economic, biological and social data.
    • Both of these provisions, among others, can be found in the H.R. 2023 and S.1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 which are currently before the 115th Congress.
  • Regional Management is currently being considered by the Gulf Council that would allow each state to manage its recreational sector allocation out to 200 nautical miles through a plan amendment to the Reef Fish Fisheries Management Plan (FMP). However, the states must first agree on how to divide the current Gulf-wide allocation between each state.
  • On April 18, NOAA Fisheries issued notice that the 2018 and 2019 Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper season for private recreational anglers and state charter vessels, in both state and federal waters, would be set by the individual Gulf States through recently approved Exempted Fishing Permits (EFP’s). The permits are temporary but will allow the states to demonstrate their effectiveness at managing the recreational sector, provide more days for recreational anglers to pursue red snapper and allow the regional management amendments the time necessary to make their way through the council process.


Description Download
Mississippi House of Representatives Letter on Amendment 40: August 20, 2014 Download file
National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Letter on Amendment 40: October 20, 2014 Download file
Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Letter on Amendment 40: October 20, 2014 Download file
Red Snapper Plan Cover Letter: March 13, 2015 Download file
Sportfishing Industry Letter to Gulf State Governors: March 20, 2015 Download file
Mississippi Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Letter to Governor Bryant: March 23, 2015 Download file
Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority (GSRSMA) Download file
Amendment 40 Minority Report Download file

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