Council votes to open red snapper fishing weekends in late October

Red Snapper fishing has been closed along the East Coast of Florida for years.

Capt Don Dingman, of the Hook The Future fishing show, dispays a snapper offshore from Jacksonville which was safely released after this photo.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eager fisherman are rearranging their late October weekend schedules after this afternoon's vote by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to open red snapper fishing along the East Coast of Florida for the first time in over a year. 

On Monday afternoon the council voted to allow fisherman to fish for red snapper in federal waters beginning in mid to late October of this year. The details are still to be finalized but the council is in favor of a recreational mini-season of 6 to 12 days of fishing over a period of three day weekends beginning in mid to late October. The recreational limit would be one fish per person per day with no minimum size limit. Commercial fisherman would be limited to 75lbs per trip. 

The council's decision is still in need of approval by NOAA, and once that occurs the specific dates will be announced. That should occur within the next few weeks. 

The Council also approved measures in Amendment 43 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan with the intent to have a red snapper season in 2018. The amendment would revise the process to calculate the annual catch limit for red snapper, allowing mini-seasons for red snapper beginning in July. If allowed, the recreational fishery would open the second Friday in July (July 13, 2018) and the commercial fishery the second Monday in July (July 9, 2018). The annual opening dates for the fishery were established through an earlier amendment.

Under the Council’s approved preferred alternative, the 2018 annual catch limit would also be 42,510 fish. Because fishing pressure would be greater during the summer months in most areas, it is estimated that the recreational mini-season would last between 4 to 7 weekend days with a 1 fish per person/day bag limit and no minimum size limit. The commercial trip limit would remain at 75 pounds. The number of recreational fishing days would be determined by NOAA Fisheries and announced prior to the July opening. The Secretary of Commerce must approve Amendment 43 before it is implemented.

“We’ve consistently heard from our constituents about the increasing number of red snapper encountered and concerns that harvest has been prohibited for the past four years,” said Council Chair, Dr. Michelle Duval. “The majority of comments support allowing a limited harvest of red snapper.”

Council members also noted the positive social and economic benefits of allowing mini-seasons beginning this year, especially on the heels of recent damage to fishing communities by Hurricane Irma.
    State agency personnel will work diligently to collect information from fishermen if harvest is allowed. Personnel will be stationed at boat ramps, marinas, and other locations to gather data, similar to data collected during the 2012-2014 mini-seasons. “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute will be conducting surveys of private recreational anglers and charter-for-hire crew,” explained Jessica McCawley, Council representative for FWC. “Additionally, biologists will be collecting tissue samples (ear bones and gonad samples) to evaluate the sizes, ages, and reproductive condition of the fish being harvested.” Council members noted that additional data collected during the mini-seasons would be useful in future management decisions.

Private recreational fishermen will also have an opportunity to report their catch information as part of a voluntary pilot project using the mobile iAngler tournament app. The free mobile app will allow fishermen to report their landings of red snapper, the number of fish released, depths fished, and other valuable information. Additional details will be publicized from the Council office as they become available.
    “It is important for fishermen to remember that this is their red snapper resource,” explained Dr. Duval. “It is imperative that fishermen do everything possible to minimize the number of red snapper released during the season openings and use best fishing practices to improve the survival of released fish. Anglers are encouraged to move away from area populations after catching their bag limit and to use descending devices to reduce the impacts of barotrauma, especially when fishing in depths over 100 feet.” Dr. Duval also noted the rate of harvest in 2017 will determine the length of the 2018 red snapper season. “We must be cautionary in balancing access to the fishery without negatively impacting the sacrifices made thus far as this important stock continues to rebuild.”