Snapper Mindset Change Takes Time

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Last week, I had a conversation with close friend who is a 53-year-old male and a private recreational angler concerning his frustration with the shortest red snapper season ever. He said, “It just don’t make no sense to have all them red snappers out there and I can’t keep them.” I asked him, “Would you rather catch and keep three red snapper that weigh three pounds each for a total of nine pounds or catch one that weighs nine pounds?” He quickly said, I had rather catch three fish. I immediately thought, what’s the difference? Nine pounds is nine pounds, right?

What this conversation told me is that he is more concerned with quantity than quality.  I could relate to his thoughts. Before I changed my mindset, I thought the same way as my friend. I realized we were raised with similar backgrounds. Both our parents grew up in the post-depression era, and were conditioned to gather as much as they could because times could turn tough at a moment’s notice. Our parents owned deep freezers and the fuller they were, the more comfort those filled freezers provided. For some unknown reason, I still hang on to my deep freezer but don’t really know why. Our family eats a lot of fish, but we prefer fresh fish instead of having to dig through the freezer to get a frozen dinner. On the other hand, my friend keeps his freezer full of meat and doesn’t mind having to thaw his dinner.

The mindset that we share dates back to our childhood where we were taught “more is better.” Whether you are talking about points in a sports game, money, cars, acres, hunting Easter eggs at church or catching the most fish, he who has the most wins. I believe this competitive spirit we share is alive in almost everyone who fishes in the Gulf of Mexico. It is especially prevalent for those who for so many generations, have depended upon red snapper as a primary food source. One of the main reasons red snapper are so popular in the northern Gulf of Mexico is because they are relatively abundant, easy to catch, and are an excellent food source. The reason these fish are so abundant is because of the large number of artificial reefs located in the northern gulf that are attributed to congregating the species in large quantities. Because of the infrastructure of reefs being in place, combined with reduced effort by fishermen since the reauthorization of Magnuson in 2006, these fish have had a chance to grow and mature. Snapper are easy to catch because of their abundance and their aggressive feeding habits which has led them to be called, “the Piranha of the Gulf.” They offer novice and experienced anglers the opportunity catch a quality fish by using basic tackle and simple techniques. As a food source, they fare well after being stored frozen for long periods of time, and they produce a dense filet of meat without a lot of waste.

I found my friend’s feelings to be genuine and could relate to every word he expressed. He sees a fishery that on the surface looks fully recovered. Because I am on the water about 200 days a year I see a fishery that has a few more years to go before it’s sustainable.

As frustration builds among anglers about seasons continuing to get shorter while the fish keep getting larger, I feel it is important to listen to those who struggle and disagree with the time its going to take to rebuild our red snapper fishery. For those anglers who struggle with changing their mindset, there is legislation known as the Gulf Fisheries Fairness Act that has been introduced. If passed, it will give the five Gulf States authority to manage reef fish out to 20 fathoms (120’).

In the mean time, we at Gulf of Mexico Fish believe that fishermen need to educate themselves on why the fish get bigger and the seasons get shorter, so they can understand the complexities of managing our nation’s fisheries. We encourage you to stay engaged and lets all learn together as to how we can make our fishery sustainable and help those who are willing to change, adjust their mindset of how quality may be a better alternative than quantity when it comes to red snapper.

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