The silver lining for Southeastern saltwater anglers is that at least there is a red snapper season at all. But the revelation on Friday of another tiny snapper season — two days for recreational fishers in 2022 — won’t be received well.
When the council that manages Southeastern federal fisheries met two months ago, anglers expected around three days, which also wasn’t good enough.
“To me, the three-day season, it just doesn’t work for the average recreational angler, and there are so many,” said Davy Hite, a championship freshwater fisher who fishes saltwater recreationally. Hite made the comments at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) meeting on Jekyll Island, Georgia, in March.
He said if the weather was bad or circumstances didn’t line up perfectly, a lot of fishers can’t get out on the water for these mini-seasons. Then there’s the safety problem, which several people addressed at the SAFMC meeting.
“I experienced it first-hand — it’s dangerous,” said Paul Dozier, a recreational fisher who runs Northeast Florida fishing tournaments.
“I believe the (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) people would say this. You create a frenzy and everybody goes. They’re fist-fighting at the boat ramp, they’re arguing over spots, they’re throwing stuff at the boats, there’s dozens and dozens of boats at each spot, and it’s reckless. I’ve been fishing for 35 years, and I’ve never seen anything like what I saw last year.”
The way statistics are counted, bycatch — red snapper that aren’t targeted and are thrown back in the water — is the primary driver for why the fishery is technically overfished despite years of reported abundance. It’s a kind of regulatory handcuff from the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which is like the constitution of federal fishery management.
This year’s recreational red snapper season for federal waters in the South Atlantic — that’s from North Carolina through the Florida Keys, three to 200 miles off the coast — is July 8 and 9, a Friday and Saturday. It opens at 12:01 a.m. that Friday and closes at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, June 10.
The recreational bag limit is one red snapper per person per day. The captain and crew on for-hire vessels may retain their recreational bag limit, as well.
For commercial fishers, harvest opens at 12:01 a.m., June 11, and runs through when the commercial annual catch limit (ACL) is reached, or Jan. 1, 2023, whichever comes first. The commercial ACL is 124,815 pounds whole weight, or 12,854 fish. The trip limit is 75 pounds gutted weight.
There are no minimum or maximum size limits for either sector.
“The red snapper is highly abundant,” North Carolina recreational fisher Robert Lorenz said at the meeting, “and the biomass of the species is largely assumed by this AP as being recovered and sufficient in abundance to begin a pathway to more liberal regulation of the species.”