The 52-day recreational fishing season for Gulf red snapper is now open in state waters. The federal season opens on June 1 and will run just nine days, the shortest in history.
The Gulf red snapper population was first determined to be overfished in the 1980s. Commercial and recreational quotas have been in place since the 1990s. Overfishing ended in 2009. Roy Crabtree is the southeast regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service.
“The fish are much bigger now," Crabtree said. "They’re available to a lot more people. You can catch them much closer to shore than what’s happened in the past, and they’re much easier to catch now. As a consequence, the catch rates in the recreational fishery right now are much, much higher than they were a decade ago. And so even though we’ve raised the quotas, the capacity of the fleet to catch those quotas has gone up faster than we anticipated, and the seasons have gotten shorter.”
NOAA Fisheries initially set the 2014 federal recreational season at 40 days last December. The season was reduced to nine days after a lawsuit was filed by a group of commercial fishermen.
“Their complaint was that we had not done enough to constrain the recreational catches, because they have gone over their quota in many of the recent years," Crabtree said.
The court ruling ordered for additional restrictions on recreational red snapper fishing in federal waters. The boundary between state and federal waters lies three miles from shore except in Texas and Florida, whose jurisdiction extends nine miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana recently joined Texas in allowing its anglers to fish in state waters year-round. Again, Crabtree of NOAA fisheries.
“So we had to estimate how much of the quota we think will be caught in state waters and back that out of what’s left to be caught in federal waters," Crabtree said. "When we did that, that resulted in the nine day season. So we’re estimating that nearly half of the quota will be caught in state waters outside of the federal season this year.”
Florida’s state season will run 52 days to allow its anglers an opportunity to fish for red snapper in state waters. Amanda Nalley is public information specialist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“In Florida in particular, there are some snapper that are caught in state waters," Nalley said. "Having a longer state season will open up opportunities for people to harvest them in state waters, regardless of the federal season being shorter.”
The FWC set this year’s state recreational red snapper fishing season to begin on May 24 and close on July 15.
“We’re basing our season somewhat upon what the federal season might be and what the federal data is showing regarding the red snapper population. We look at a variety of things from the state perspective. One of the things that we looked at this year and in recent years as well is, how is this going to affect the local economy? Can we offer additional opportunities in state waters to folks that live here in Florida that might be fishing right off our coast?” Nalley said.
Red snapper season is important to the charter fishing industry. Scott Robson had been president of the Destin Charter Boat Association for fourteen years and runs the charter boat Phoenix.
“Red snapper has always been an important fishery on the Gulf Coast. That’s part of the reason there’s been so many regulations in trying to rebuild the stock, because it’s been one of the mainstay fish in the Gulf of Mexico,” Robson said.
As their population has been rebuilding, the fish have increased in size.
“As years went on, as the fish got bigger, it shortened our season because the poundage increased. We reached our total allowable catch faster," Robson said.
Robson said that charter boats have come to rely on the business generated through red snapper fishing and that people began to book summer charter boat trips after the initial forty day season was announced in December.
“We’ve conditioned people that we’re going to have this, especially when they announced in the beginning a 40 day season from June 1 to July 10. People have already booked trips," Robson said.
Charter boat companies have had to let their customers know of the change and run the risk of losing business this season. State senators Nelson and Rubio have sent a letter to the US Department of Commerce asking for an assessment of catch data for the upcoming season and extension of the season as soon as possible.
Katya Ivanov, WUWF News