What you need to know before snapper mini season opens Friday

Here's how you can legally fish for red snapper this year

The popular fish has been limited for a decade to fisherman
The popular fish has been limited for a decade to fisherman

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Fishing for the highly restricted red snapper briefly opens on Friday and there are two things you need to do before you hit the boat ramp to comply with the growing regulations. The first is to add a designation to your saltwater fishing license and the second is to buy a descending device for your boat.

The recreational sector will open for harvest on weekends only on the following 4 days:

  • July 10, 11, and 12, 2020 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) - The recreational season opens at 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 10, 2020, and closes at 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 13, 2020.
  • July 17, 2020 (Friday) - The recreational season opens again at 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 17, 2020, and closes at 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 18, 2020.
  • The recreational bag limit will be one red snapper per person per day. This applies to private and charterboat/headboat vessels (the captain and crew on for-hire vessels may retain the recreational bag limit).
  • There will be no minimum or maximum size limits for the recreational or commercial sectors.

Adding State Reef Angler designation

First, you must add a (free!) State Reef Fish Angler designation to your Saltwater fishing license. This includes anyone who may be targeting a variety of reef fish, not just for red snapper during snapper season.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, State Reef Fish Anglers will help improve recreational data for several reef fish species such as snapper, grouper, and hogfish. The process is easy, no-cost and will help the FWC paint a clearer picture of how many people are targeting reef fish like red snapper and gag and what they are seeing and harvesting on the water.

To acquire this designation, you can Sign up online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or anywhere you can purchase a Florida fishing license.

Here is an instructional video on how to get the State Reef Fish Angler designation if you do not already have your Saltwater Fishing License for Florida:

I just went through this process of adding the designation to my preexisting Saltwater Fishing License and found the video below helpful:

The process takes less than ten minutes, I opted to print mine out afterwards, so you may find access to a printer handy.

Outside of red snapper mini season, if you fish for mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, hogfish, red snapper, vermillion snapper, gag grouper, red grouper, black grouper, greater amberjack, lesser amberjack, banded rubberfish, almaco jack, or gray triggerfish you also need to add this designation to your annual saltwater fishing license.

What does that mean?

  • Once you sign up, make sure to carry proof of your designation when fishing for reef fish from a private vessel.
  • You may be randomly selected to receive a survey by mail about your fishing activity. The information you provide is used to estimate the total number of recreational fishing trips for reef fish in Florida during a given month. Even if you did not fish for reef fish, your feedback allows scientists to more accurately determine fishing effort.
  • If you receive a survey, please respond and return as soon as possible, even if you did not fish in the given month!
  • You may be approached by an FWC biologist at the dock after returning from recreational fishing and asked to participate in an in-person interview. If you have a few minutes, please participate in this survey.
  • Don’t forget to renew your State Reef Fish Angler designation annually if you plan to fish for or harvest the reef fish listed above.

Here’s how the FWC and NOAA plan to use the data from the survey and why you may be asked to participate in an in person survey at the boat ramp.

Descending device

Effective July 15, 2020, a descending device must be on board and readily available for use (attached to minimum of 60-feet of line with at least a 16-ounce weight) when targeting snapper grouper species in federal waters in the South Atlantic. Descending devices help reduce the effects of barotrauma, a condition that occurs when a fish is rapidly reeled up from depth. Changes in pressure cause the fish’s swim bladder to expand, filling the body cavity with air and preventing the fish from swimming back down. Signs of barotrauma include protrusion of the stomach from the fish’s mouth, bulging eyes, anal prolapse and bubbling scales. A descending device can quickly be used to transport the fish back to depth, greatly improving its chances of survival.

In addition to requiring descending devices to help reduce release mortality, beginning July 15, 2020 , non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks are required when fishing for snapper grouper species with hook-and-line gear with natural baits north of 28 degrees N. latitude (approximately 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral, Florida). The new regulations also require that all hooks must be non-stainless steel when fishing for snapper grouper species with such gear in federal waters in the South Atlantic. The new requirements for descending devices and hooks apply to recreational fishermen as well as federally permitted for-hire and commercial snapper grouper vessels.

“We’ve consistently heard concerns from both commercial and recreational fishermen about the number of fish that must be released as catch limits are met and seasons closed,” said Mel Bell, Vice Chair of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. “It is difficult to avoid some of the co-occurring snapper grouper species such as Vermilion Snapper, Mutton Snapper, and Red Snapper. These new requirements are designed to increase awareness of best fishing practices and help reduce the number of fish that float away on any given fishing trip, a sight that no one wants to see,” explained Bell. The new descending device and hook requirements were implemented through Regulatory Amendment 29 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. “The Council purposely crafted the definition of a descending device in a manner that gives fishermen the flexibility to create their own devices, likely using some items they have on hand,” explained Bell. “There are also several options available for purchase. I encourage people to visit the Council’s website to get additional information on requirements. The goal is to get fishermen accustomed to using the devices and reduce release mortality.”

Fishermen are encouraged to begin using descending devices and specified hooks prior to the opening of this year’s Red Snapper season. Beginning July 10, 11 and 12 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and again Friday, July 17, 2020 recreational fishermen will have the opportunity to add a Red Snapper to table fare as the 4-day recreational season opens..