No one should have any difficulty buying fresh Gulf of Mexico red snapper for dinner anytime in the foreseeable future.

“It’s what they call a ‘harvest fishery’ — you go out there, they bite. They’re not hard to find,” said Steve Rash, who owns Water Street Seafood in Apalachicola, Fla.

That assessment was confirmed by the recent Great Red Snapper Count — a two-year scientific study conducted by Texas A&M’s Harte Research Institute. Researchers reported to Congress in October that there are up to three times as many red snapper living in the gulf as scientists previously estimated.

Rash says the dozen or so boats operating out of his fish house catch red snapper on nearly every trip, whether it is the target species or as bycatch in the grouper, amberjack, or other reef fisheries. He says dock prices are in the $5 to $5.50-per-pound range, with fishermen who are leasing quota netting about $2 per pound.

As of just before Thanksgiving, gulf fishermen had landed about 5.6 million pounds, or 82 percent of the annual quota of 7 million pounds. Rash said sales to restaurants were slow from last winter to early spring as a result of covid-19-related shutdowns.

“But when everything opened up, business got really good in northern gulf beaches,” he said. NMFS “needs to raise the quota; that’s what they need to do.”

In the South Atlantic, where red snapper are managed separately, populations are similarly abundant, according to Jimmy Hull, owner of Hull Seafood restaurant and market in Ormond Beach, Fla. But fishermen are limited by “a small quota based on a horrible stock assessment,” Hull said.

The commercial fishery opened July 13 and closed Sept. 5 after NMFS determined fishermen had fulfilled their quota. Hull said boat prices were around $6.75 per pound. These days, Hull is buying red snapper from gulf suppliers to sell in his restaurant and market.

“Demand for domestic product is really high,” he said. “The price will not go down.”

Hull says the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is in the midst of a new stock assessment for red snapper, but he predicts no upping of the quota, if any, before 2022.

Meanwhile, he and other South Atlantic fishermen are depending on vermilion snapper to fulfill consumer demand. A smaller but tasty species, vermilions are garnering between $2.75 and $4 per pound to the boat, depending on size.

John DeSantis is the senior staff writer at The Times, a newspaper in Houma, La. and regularly contributes to National Fisherman.

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