Stranded Anglers Pay the Price Here in Sand Land
By Mark McDonald Sr.
One of the great joys of hunting or fishing is preparing the largess and sharing it with friends or family. When it comes to red snapper, especially out here in West Texas, it is more than a joy. It’s enough to make a grown man wilt to his knees in gratitude.
The snapper, for you landlubbers, is a saltwater creature that lurks near bottom features – rock piles, drop-offs or, in Gulf waters, more often, oil drilling platforms. Feeding on crab, squid, shrimp and small fish, red snapper routinely weigh 3-5 pounds, but can reach a rod-bending 50 pounds.
For this chicken of the sea, the angler outfits himself with a hefty rod and reel and at least 25-pound test line, equipment suitable for waylaying a home intruder.
Red snapper is delicious grilled or poached. It can be fried – a shame to do so – or it may be boiled with a pair of waders. For our neighbors in northern waters, the snapper is our walleye, except with more real flavor. Any way you slice it, the firm grayish-white flesh of a red snapper is better than chipping in for birdie.
The fish is so widely popular, in fact, both on the hook and in the kitchen, it is more heavily regulated than coal. To protect snapper from overharvest … ahem … may I quote directly from the Texas Parks and Wildlife website:
“Red snapper fishing is regulated by the state within the first 9 nautical miles from shore … However, in federal waters, red snapper fishing is regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“The red snapper season in federal waters varies from year to year but typically opens June 1 with the duration determined annually based on Annual Catch Limits.” Yammer, yammer, yammer. You get the idea.
Commercial snapper fishermen are getting about $5.50 a pound for red snapper when they sell their catch to commercial buyers. So sayeth Shannon Tompkins, who should know.
He is the award-winning outdoor writer, friend and tormented soul at the Houston paper. Tompkins has spent more time offshore than an Alcatraz inmate. He learned to tie his shoes and got his first boat on the same day. When he says dockside retailers sell whole snapper for about $16 per pound, mark it down. Know it to be so.
His point: Wholesalers are getting better than $10 a pound, something to consider when I pay, gulp, $23+ a pound for a snapper fillet. Here in God’s Own Wind Tunnel, counter prices for snapper rival premium aged beef.
The enlightened “Mr. Sunshine,” a professional pessimist, shrugs off my whining with a sage pronouncement. As if harrumphing in his beer (which he does not drink), “Twenty-three dollars a pound in Sand Land,” he says, “sounds about right.”
Having since noodled on where the price of snapper gets hijacked, or in this case, jacked high, I am now grudgingly inclined to agree with my favorite toothache in Sweat City.
Between the commercial fisherman and the dockside retailer, the wholesaler slides into the product chain for $10/pound. At first, it seems outrageous, until you consider this:
Commercial fisherman and dockside retailers deal in fresh fish. Not so the wholesaler.
The wholesaler must hold and transfer an extremely perishable food item. One screw-up, and he smells like dead fish for a week. For taking a lion’s share of the risk, this entrepreneur is entitled to a major portion of the market.
Here in Sand Land (told Sunny I would steal it), we are +/- 475 miles from the docks at Corpus Christi, so I’m happy to pay the piper. Just can’t do it very often.
If you ask me, there are lots of good reason to live near the coast. Seafood is just one of them.
Past president of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association, Mark McDonald escaped starvation while serving on the sports staffs of five major dailies. Between sunburns and backlashes, he coached 22 years of summer ball, leading to his next book, “They Gave Us Baseball: Now Look What We’ve Done,” a guide for parents and youth coaches for screwing up a young ballplayer. It is due for release in early 2015.