« September 2007 Table of Contents
Product Spotlight: Red snapper
New measures hope to bring the species back to
By April Forristall
September 01, 2007
The most fl a vorful of the snapper family, red snapper's
sweet taste makes it highly popular - and highly exploited. The
unofficial poster boy for species substitution, it has been
overfished since 1989, according to the National Marine
One of the most prized fish by both commercial and
recreational fishermen, red snapper is mainly a victim of
bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico.
Once the species was declared overfished in 1989, NMFS
called for tighter restrictions to restore red snapper to
sustainable levels. In 1991, the total allowable catch was set
at 5 million pounds. The Gulf shrimp fishery installed bycatch
reduction devices (BRDs) in shrimp nets in 1993. Based on a
drop in red snapper bycatch by the shrimp fishery in federal
waters and new biological information, the target date for
sustainability was extended to 2009, allowing the TAC to be
raised to 6 million pounds. The sustainability date was again
pushed back in 1996, to 2019, allowing another increase in the
TAC, this time to 9.12 million pounds.
In January the derby-style season was replaced with an
individual fishing quota system. In late 2006, however, NMFS
had decided that while the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management
Council developed additional long-term measures toward the
species' recovery, interim measures were needed this year to
"The TAC was lowered to 6.5 million pounds, the daily
recreation bag limit is set at two fish, captain and crews of
for-hire vessels are prohibited from retaining a recreational
bag limit and the commercial red snapper minimum size
raised to 13 inches total length," explains Charlene Ponce,
public information officer for the council.
BRDs are still required in the shrimp fishery, and the
council recently approved a regulatory amendment that modifies
the criteria for BRDs to address shrimp trawl bycatch more
comprehensively and realistically.
"The new criteria is expected to increase flexibility,
promote innovation and allow for the certification of BRDs that
will achieve greater reduction in red snapper bycatch than what
is currently being realized," says Ponce.
The ultimate goal of the amendment is to end overfishing of
the Gulf's signature fish between 2009-10, with the species'
population reaching sustainable levels in 2032. In July, the
council approved the fishery management plan amendment, she
The interim rule amendment was sent to the Secretary of
Commerce in late July and is currently open for comment. If
approved, implementation is expected early next year.
As with other popular table fish, limited availability,
partially due to the new restrictions, and high demand of red
snapper have led to species fraud.
A DNA study conducted by the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill in 2004 found that 77 percent of the 22 red snapper
samples served at area restaurants were mislabeled.
In May, the Chicago Sun-Times sent snapper samples
sushi restaurants for DNA testing. Not one came back as red
snapper. Results concluded that nine were tilapia, four were
red sea bream and the remainders were "inconclusive."
Similar results turned up in Arizona. Research done by
KPHO-TV News in Phoenix found that out of five samples of red
snapper, grouper, catfish and one unidentified species were
served instead. Having an honest supplier is the best way to
combat species substitution, says Dean Max, executive chef at
3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"We use very high-end purveyors who aren't going to
substitute different products in for that," says Max, who is
also on the seafood and aquaculture advisory board for the
Florida Department of Agriculture. "On the other end of that we
also get the product whole whenever possible and if not whole,
it's still skin-on so we can view what the product looks
"One of the big things for me is the fact that we need to be
responsible. We've got organizations that are putting
information out there. As chefs we try to watch that and change
As for red snapper's future, "it's a day-by-day thing,"
According to Ponce, an updated stock assessment for red
snapper is scheduled for late 2009, data from which will be
used to determine if additional regulations are necessary. Time
will tell if the new steps taken by the Gulf council and NMFS
will aid in red snapper recovery.
Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at