(NEWSLETTER - Summer 2019)
2019 Recreational Red Snapper Season At-A-Glance
Recreational mini-season provides lots of action, opportunity for data collection
You didn’t have to look far in the news or on social media to see that this year’s 5-day recreational season for red snapper was a productive one along the southeastern coast. The first 3-day weekend (July 12-14) started off with less-than-perfect weather in some places but the seas calmed a bit and reports began streaming in with photos of fishermen holding large red snapper. This was particularly true in the Sunshine State. According to Ed Killer, outdoor writer with Florida Today, catches were very good with “Many anglers reporting it as being one of the “easiest” seasons in recent memory. Fish were easily caught on reef structure and ledges as shallow as 90 feet of water out to 240 feet.” A bit farther up the coast, Jim Sutton with the St. Augustine Record newspaper noted that red snapper fishing was “red hot” and reports from Jacksonville were similar. Charter captains and headboats were booked for multiple trips over the 3-day weekend. Circumstances were similar the last two days of the season, Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20.
State Sampling Efforts
Field biologists and other staff from state marine resource agencies were also busy during the opening. In Florida, fishing activity was once again monitored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “We don’t have hard numbers yet, the data are still coming in from all of our staff that traveled over the past two weekends,” said Beverly Sauls, researcher at the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “As in past years, we monitored recreational boat activity through eight major inlets from the GA border to Port St. Lucie. We conducted angler interviews and sampled catch from private boat parties at a variety of public access sites situated around those inlets and met charter boats at the dock to sample their catches,” explained Sauls. “The weather was good this year and we saw very high fishing effort across all five days…we saw a lot of nice-sized fish in the 20-30 inch range.”
Photographs courtesy of GADNR & FWC
North Carolina added more carcass collection stations during the season. “We are still in the process of retrieving carcasses from freezers, but it seems this year’s catches were better than year’s past,” explained Steve Poland, Council representative for the NC Division of Marine Fisheries. “As always, up here harvest seems to be affected more by weather than anything else,” said Poland, noting that three of the five days were fishable with winds less than 10-15 knots. Doug Haymans, Director of the Coastal Resources Division of GA Department of Natural Resources and Council representative had similar preliminary observations, noting the large number of freezer carcasses coming in. The carcasses provide information on length, age, and other useful biological information. A compilation of state agency sampling efforts is available from the Council’s website at: https://safmc.net/regulations/regulations-by-species/red-snapper/.
More Fish, More Fishing Days?
There were lots of smiles as fishermen showed off their catches of red snapper. But not everyone was happy with the fishing season. Many anglers agree that there should be more fishing days given the number of red snapper that are being encountered.
The number of recreational fishing days is determined by NOAA Fisheries based on the estimated harvest from the previous mini-season and accounting for the current recreational annual catch limit (ACL) of 29,656 fish (72% of the total allocation). NOAA Fisheries announced the 5-day 2019 recreational season back in March. Additional information, including a Q&A are included in the March 4, 2019, Fishery Bulletin.
To understand how the current mini-season came to be, it helps to take a quick look back. A benchmark stock assessment for red snapper was conducted in 2010, showing the population was in trouble, at an estimated 3% of its stock biomass. In addition to closing the fishery, the Council had considered large area closures for all snapper grouper fishing to further reduce fishing pressure and meet the mandates to rebuild the stock. This was not a popular measure. An update to the stock assessment showed the stock was recovering enough to avoid large area closures. However, harvest of red snapper from federal waters was not allowed from 2015 until November 2017,due primarily to the estimated number of fish that die as they are caught and released.This continues to be the biggest challenge as the stock rebuilds - and more fishermen catch and release more and more red snapper.
The current annual catch limit for red snapper was set through Snapper Grouper Amendment 43, beginning with the 2018 season. The next red snapper stock assessment will begin in 2021 and is scheduled for completion in late 2023 or early 2024. Under the Magnuson Stevens Act, federal fishery managers must abide by annual catch limits based on stock assessments. Managers are hopeful that the new stock assessment will reflect the higher number of red snapper that fishermen, scientists, and managers are seeing, and lead to increased access to the red snapper fishery.
How You Can Help
Meanwhile, to help improve the survival of red snapper and other species that are released, fishermen are urged to use best practices, including descending devices and or venting tools for fish suffering with signs of barotrauma. Take a few minutes to take the Best Fishing Practices online tutorial. Read more about proposed mandatory measures for best fishing practices.
Download the MyFishCount mobile app and start reporting your catches (and releases) on your next fishing trip. Create a personal account and fishing log while providing information for better management. Learn more at https://safmc.net/electronic-reporting-projects/myfishcount/.
Offer your opinions. While the Council can’t control if a red snapper season occurs each year or the number of fishing days, they are considering changes to the start dates for the recreational and commercial red snapper fishery as well as other options. Learn more.