Ed Killer: Red snapper changes a good sign
By Ed Killer
If you fish offshore, you may soon have one more target to catch.
Off limits to recreational harvest since 2010, except for a handful of fishing days in 2012, 2013, and 2014, red snapper are becoming an example of how smart, but tough fisheries policy can work for the better.
At its regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 11-15 in Charleston, South Carolina, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council will on its first day discuss a “red snapper emergency action request.” Council executive director Gregg Waugh said the meeting could very likely wind up with a decision to allow for a brief fishing season for red snapper later this fall.
What is it about red snapper that makes it desirable? It can be caught in waters as shallow as 33 feet and as deep as 600 feet. It can be caught from North Carolina to Jupiter. A small one might weigh 6 pounds and a big one can weigh as much as 40 pounds, or more. Off the coasts of Indian River, Brevard, Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns and Duval counties, red snapper are pretty much the dominant species caught over reefs and ledges in 90 to 180 feet of water where the majority of bottom fishing activity takes place.
The best thing about red snapper is it tastes delicious when baked and stuffed with crabmeat stuffing.
What is really interesting about this news is how quickly federal agencies seem to be interested in moving red snapper from one category to the next. The federal government, and in particular the National Marine Fisheries Service, has not exactly developed a good reputation for being nimble or swift when it comes to developing or enacting policy.
But there seems to be a change in the currents. In June, National Marine Fisheries announced there would not be any fishing for red snapper in 2017 and probably not in 2018, either. Then, by mid-August, there seemed to be a pretty noticeable 180-degree flip.
Perhaps the agency was encouraged by a joint letter from Florida senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. The letter, dated June 29 and sent to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, newly appointed at the time by President Donald Trump, congratulated the department’s decision to extend the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishing season in federal waters by 39 days this year. The senators then urged Ross to find a way to open a red snapper season for the Atlantic in order to help small businesses in coastal Florida such as tackle shops, charter boats, marinas and hotels. A brief red snapper season could generate more than $2.4 million spread across South Atlantic region coastal communities and businesses.
Good move by our senators. And good move by our federal fishery managers.
What does it mean for the recreational anglers of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina? It could mean as many as 12 days of fishing opportunities for red snapper this year. It also is probably going to lead to several more red snapper fishing days in 2018.
The “red snapper emergency rule document” was posted on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council website late Friday night. It is 185 pages of explanations, charts, tables, graphs, statistics and scientific lingo about what one of my favorite editors jokingly refers to as “the only fish in the ocean.”
Sometimes it feels that way. I’ve been reporting about red snapper regulations and their changes since 2007, when the Magnuson-Stevens Act was reauthorized by then President George W. Bush.
On Sept. 11, the council will review and choose one of five potential alternatives spanning from Alternative 1, which is no change to current rules, leaving the fishery off limits, to Alternative 5, which would allow for nearly 80,000 red snapper to be caught this year.
An option called “Preferred Alternative 4” suggests that 42,510 red snapper could be harvested by a combination of recreational anglers and commercial fishermen with no damage to the growth rate of the red snapper stock in Atlantic waters. The catch is allocated with 28.07 percent for the commercial sector and 71.93 percent for the recreational sector. That means an estimated 29,656 red snapper are allocated to recreational anglers while 124,815 pounds whole weight are allocated for the commercial fishermen.
If there is a season this year, it could begin as early as Oct. 6. It could last as long as 12 days, or as short as three days, depending on how effective anglers are. The National Marine Fisheries Service would adjust the season after it gets underway. Hopefully, weather will not be a factor for this offshore fishery miles from land.
The 42,510 red snapper was taken from number of fish harvested during the eight-day fishing season allowed in July 2014. Even with that harvest and the calculated “dead discards,” or the number of red snapper anglers attempt to release unharmed but die anyway, statistics show red snapper stocks are recovering well since 2009.
So bottom fishermen, cross your fingers. We could find out in about two weeks whether we’ll be able to hunt for red snapper in October.
More on red snapper
To read the entire 185-page Red Snapper Rule Emergency Document go to
http://safmc.net/2017-september-council-meeting/ and click on Briefing Book then Tab 01 Council Session Monday.
To register for the Sept. 11 South Atlantic Fishery Management Council webinar go to SAFMC Council Meetings.
Ed Killer is the outdoors columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com, and this column reflects his opinion. Friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 772-221-4201.