Both recreational anglers and commercial fishermen alike rely on healthy and resilient populations of fish and other marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, which generates more than half of the seafood consumed in the U.S. annually. The most economically significant species include white and brown shrimp, blue crab, oysters, and red snapper, generating nearly $500 million in sales yearly between the five states in the Gulf region. Additionally, the recreational fishing sector adds millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to coastal economies.
Red snapper are large, predatory reef fish, which may live for over 20 years, reaching 40 inches in length and weighing up to 50 pounds. Due to unregulated overfishing of red snapper, populations of this important fish crashed through the late 1980’s and 90’s. However, thanks to close monitoring, state and federal regulations and per-species quotas, red snapper fisheries have begun to recover across much of the Gulf. By taking an ecosystem-based management approach, considering habitat and food sources for all life stages of important reef species, groups such as Friends of RGV Reef are on the front lines of continued snapper conservation.
Project Description & History
Located 13 miles northeast of South Padre Island, the 1650-acre Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Reef is the largest and most complex artificial reef off the Texas coast. This industrial-scale reef is designed with both commercial and recreational fishermen in mind, incorporating trolling trails and reef patches for drifting. Perhaps the most significant characteristic of the RGV reef is the variety of substrate size and material used in its construction. By including complex materials of different sizes, the reef provides habitat for snapper of all ages and sizes, in addition to habitat for hundreds of other species that frequent the reef.
To date, Friends of RGV Reef have deployed the following materials to seed the reef, ranging from large, high-profile materials to low, diffuse, nursery cover: Two donated fishing vessels, 3000 tons of concrete culverts and highway dividers, 1500 tons of broken-up concrete slabs, dozens of reefing pyramids, 600 tons of concrete roof tiles and railroad ties, and over 60,000 cinder blocks. The variety of reef substrate provides valuable cover for baby fish to escape predators and strong currents, while providing an abundance of prey and high-profile habitat for large adults. This reefing strategy in turn creates a stable food web and habitat matrix that will allow for the continued recovery of red snapper and other important Gulf species.
Friends of RGV Reef seeks to share their love for the Gulf and its wildlife with coastal communities, tourists, researchers, and amateur anglers young and old. This initiative also seeks to increase awareness about Gulf reefs, fisheries conservation, and marine ecology in Texas and beyond. By augmenting an invaluable community resource, Friends provides an opportunity for anyone to have a up-close encounter with the Gulf’s marine wildlife, including species recovering from overfishing such as Red Snapper and Amberjack. The ongoing recovery of these and other reef species is due, in part, to the artificial reefing efforts made by scores of dedicated volunteers and researchers across the Gulf.