Written by Jen Finn
WASHINGTON Over 18 years of running Old Dixie Seafood in Boca Raton, Larry Siemsen has seen supplies of locally caught red snapper dwindle and prices double, thanks to decades of over-fishing and recent federal restrictions to help the popular fish recover.
"During tourist seasons down here, there's not enough supply for the demand," Siemsen said. Like local restaurants, Siemsen has relied increasingly on imports from waters off Latin America.
Today, though, the red snapper is making a comeback near Florida's shores, saved by those strict federal limits. And Florida anglers, state officials and boat captains — who say they're finding far more big, healthy snappers — are clamoring for looser limits on both the Atlantic catch and the Gulf of Mexico, where far more of the tasty fish are taken.
Not so fast, conservationists say: Give the red snapper more time to rebound — much like sea bass, a recent success story — so it can remain a staple catch for fishermen and a favorite dish in restaurants.
Even Darden Restaurants — which has seafood on the menu of all of its 1,900 restaurants — supports the quotas. In a letter last June to the Gulf Management Council, the company called for a continuation of the quota, though it said commercial fishers should be alloted more and recreational anglers less.
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