How much at risk, really, are our ocean fisheries?
Some of them are overfished and certainly should be protected to allow recovery.
For many others, however, too little data is available. As government insists restrictive measures are needed, anglers counter that they are not.
During the 40-day red snapper season down in Alabama waters, researchers from the University of South Alabama want to see how recreational fishing impacts the “public” locations.
"With the snapper season being so short and so many questions about the health of the snapper stocks and how accurate the stock assessments are, what we're doing is sampling some of the artificial reefs off Alabama," says Dr. Bob Shipp. "These are public reefs. The numbers are published. Everybody knows them. They're 12-14 miles offshore, which means easy access.
"We're using video and regular hook and line to sample these reefs now before the season opens. When the season is over, we'll come and sample them all again to see what kind of impact this very short season has. We'll see if they've been cleaned off or whether they are in good shape and can stand a little more pressure."
And Shipp has this to say about the value of venting:
"We're doing a study now on how deep you can bring a snapper up, release him and have him survive. The prevailing theory was that, after you get deeper than 70 to 80 feet, they're not going to survive.
“But we've got a half-dozen stations in 150 feet of water, and we've been tagging them for three or four years. We've recaptured a number of those fish. As long as the fish are vented (releasing gases from the swim bladder) and are not gut-hooked, they have a pretty high chance of survival."
Meanwhile, Capt. Mike Thierry, who has assisted with such research for years, knows well the value of underwater cameras:
"One time today my fish finder was lit up with fish and we weren't catching many," Thierry says. "Then we dropped the camera down and sure enough they were there.
“You don't know whether a school of baitfish had just come through or what. At some spots, they were as hungry as could be, so there may not have been any baitfish come by there in a while.
“There are so many variables that you can't see. When you've got 10-12 people standing around on the dock, not all of us are hungry. But if we were starving to death, we'd all be fighting over something to eat.
"With the camera, you can tell they're there. They may not bite, but they're there. You're not going to catch every fish off the reef. People say, 'Oh yeah, you can clean off a reef,' and I once thought the same thing.
“I don't believe that's true now at all. That's what the camera showed us."