If the posts on social media are any indication, this year’s four-day recreational Red Snapper season in federal waters was a productive one, with lots of photos of smiles as fishermen held up their Red Snapper for all to see. General reports from the July 10-12 and July 17 opening indicate the weather was decent along the coast during the majority of the season and fishermen took the opportunity to head offshore to catch a Red Snapper and perhaps escape for a few hours from the news surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had our limit of Red Snapper early and moved from spot to spot trying to catch red eye [Vermilion Snapper] and Triggerfish, but we caught and released about 20 more smaller Red Snapper,” said Damon Barnes, a police officer from Orlando, Florida, fishing out of Daytona Beach. “Even with it being the 3rd day of the season, the Red Snapper were everywhere,” explained Barnes, saying that Red Snapper “bullied” their attempts at catching other species. Each year, he and his fishing buddies travel from Orlando, Jacksonville and Atlanta to meet in Daytona Beach to charter a boat for the Red Snapper season. “Despite coming back with less pounds of other fish, we had a great time and look forward to coming back next time.”
Data Collection and Social Distancing
In spite of the challenges of COVID-19, state marine resource agencies and NOAA Fisheries used the open recreational season as an opportunity to collect data on Red Snapper.
Carcass collection sites were used in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to collect fish racks from fishermen during the 2020 season. In South Carolina, nine carcass collection freezer sites were available along the coast with a total of 92 fish racks contributed from recreational fishermen. The majority of samples were collected on the last day of the season. The total is slightly lower than 2019 according to Amy Dukes, fishery biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Marine Resources Division in Charleston. “The samples are taken back to the lab and processed, providing important information on lengths, ages, and other data that may be used in future stock assessments for Red Snapper,” explained Dukes. “We’re grateful to the fishermen and charter captains that took the time and effort to contribute racks during this year’s brief season.”
Further south, along the east coast of Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) researchers conducted interviews with fishermen, counting anglers and fish and taking biological samplings where conditions allowed during the four-day season. For the safety of the public and staff, a shortened version of the in-person survey was used and staff wore masks and practiced social distancing.
“The weather was good this year for offshore fishing, and we saw a lot of fishing effort over the four-day season across the whole region covered by the survey in Florida,” said Beverly Sauls, leader of the FWC’s Fisheries Dependent Monitoring Program. “Charter boats were also busy turning around for second trips in the afternoons. Headboats were running and came in with good catch, too,” explained Sauls. “Some of the fish kept were small this year, but there were also plenty of larger Red Snapper. Catch rates varied, many people caught their limit and others weren’t able to find the fish. We’ll see how the numbers play out, but overall I would say it was a very productive season.”
In addition to special surveys conducted during the Red Snapper season, FWC expanded its State Reef Fish Survey, or SRFS, in July 2020 to include both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida. The newly expanded survey collects data directly from recreational anglers and spear fishermen with the State Reef Fish Angler designation, which is now required to harvest certain reef fish species, including Red Snapper, anywhere in Florida.
The voluntary recreational reporting program, MyFishCount, also documented Red Snapper catches and releases during the season, with 52% of Red Snapper catches reported by program users coming from anglers off the east coast of Florida, followed by South Carolina with 26% of the reports submitted. The heaviest Red Snapper reported weighed 35.2 pounds. The mobile app allows fishermen to create a trip log, enter catch information and photos, submit their data, and view past trips. All information reported by anglers is confidential. The pilot project is being used throughout the year by fishermen to supplement data being collected through the Marine Recreational Information Program and provide fishery managers with information on the feasibility of electronic recreational reporting. Learn more at MyFishCount.com.
Best Fishing Practices and New Regulations
While a lot of Red Snapper were harvested over the recreational season, fishermen also released many more. To help ensure released fish survive throughout year, new regulations were implemented on July 15, 2020, that require a descending device be onboard when fishing for snapper grouper species and modify hook requirements. The regulations are designed to encourage best fishing practices. Learn more about the new regulations and the importance of best practices at: https://safmc.net/best-fishing-practices/.
An operational stock assessment for South Atlantic Red Snapper began in July 2020 through NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center. The Council has requested the assessment be completed in time for the 2021 Red Snapper season. Council members are hopeful that the assessment will show that the stock continues to rebuild. For additional information about the stock assessment as it becomes available, visit: http://sedarweb.org/sedar-73. And of course, we’ll be providing updates through the newsletter as well.[Return to Newsletter]