Smart management helps red snapper recover

See what it took to help the Gulf of Mexico fishery turnaround

A Gulf of Mexico fisherman hauls in a red snapper, which is sustainably harvested.

John Rae

These days, the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico is a model of sustainability.

It's a dramatic turnaround from the bleak days when the fishery was poorly managed, and fish stocks were dwindling at an alarming rate. 

"Gulf of Mexico red snapper used to be a poster child for unsafe, wasteful fishing," says Tim Fitzgerald, EDF Sustainable Seafood Director.

What happened to evoke a sea change? For more than a decade, EDF and other conservation groups partnered with a community of the Gulf’s small, family-owned commercial red snapper fishing operations and fishery managers to design a new program for the fishery that was finally implemented in 2007.

Individual fishing quota

Since then, these small fishing businesses have operated under a management plan called an individual fishing quota program with a science-based catch limit that has kept fishermen within sustainable catch levels.

Fishermen are given individual allotments that they can harvest when consumer demand is high and other conditions are favorable. This program has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in the waste of red snapper caused by the old regulations, contributing to a rebuilding population and an official end to commercial “overfishing."

Since 2008, both commercial and recreational fishermen have seen the amount of fish they can catch increase by 70 percent and fishermen are earning more thanks to stable market prices and lower operating costs.

A ‘good alternative’ at the dinner table

In fact, the red snapper catch share has been so successful that in 2013, it was listed as a “good alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.

Meaning, if you order Gulf red snapper at a restaurant or buy it at a market, you can rest assured that it’s a good choice for your family, the ocean and the small family-owned fishing businesses that rely on it.

More work to be done

"It is a testament that environmental solutions can work both for businesses and conservation," said Pam Baker, EDF's Gulf of Mexico Director.

Still, around the world, overfishing is still a widespread environmental problem, especially in areas that lack smart, sustainable management practices like catch shares. By supporting our catch shares work, you can help solve overfishing.

Catch shares give fishermen an incentive to conserve.

Amanda LelandVice President, Oceans
  • 33% increase in earnings for fisherman, per pound of fish landed
  • 70% increase in red snapper quotas
  • 50% decrease in wasted marketable fish