Red Snapper Season Moves To State Control

By Rich Armstrong

NOAA Fisheries approves state pilot projects for management of recreational red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for two years.

Red snapper catch

Count it as another little victory for recreational anglers.

NOAA Fisheries in April approved a pilot program that exempts fishing permit applications by the five Gulf states that will allow each state to manage the recreational red snapper fishing season for private anglers in its respective state and federal waters for 2018 and 2019.

Recreational anglers and industry stakeholders strongly support the decision and anticipate the Gulf states will finally be able to prove their effectiveness in managing red snapper off their coasts.

"We owe a great deal of thanks to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for his resolve in finding a solution to the red snapper management mess in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a huge step forward for recreational anglers," said Jeff Angers, President of the Center for Sportfishing Policy (CSP). "We are delighted to see a new level of cooperation between state and federal fishery managers and a respect for recreational fisheries at the federal level like we have never seen before."

Angers added that CSP is confident the states will responsibly manage this valuable natural resource with participation from anglers who have long advocated for a more responsive management system.

"While the pilot program was an improvement for angling boaters, it is not a permanent fix. BoatUS has long favored moving management of the red snapper season for recreational anglers from the federal to the state level, and continues to voice support for this approach to recreational fishing management," said David Kennedy, Manager of Government Affairs for BoatUS.

Under the jurisdiction of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, part of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, the Gulf red snapper has become the epitome of the difficulty in managing recreational anglers under today’s federal fisheries law. Over the last decade, what was once a six-month red snapper season with a four-fish bag limit for recreational anglers was reduced to a historically low three-day season with a two-fish bag limit in 2017, despite data showing a healthier fish stock. That three-day federal season ran from June 1 to June 3. On June 14, 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it would extend the 2017 recreational red snapper season by 39 weekend days in the Gulf of Mexico for private recreational anglers.

With the understanding that the 2017 extension was a short-term fix, members of Congress, angler-conservation organizations, and state fisheries management departments in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas worked together to develop a path toward a more permanent solution. What this means for recreational anglers:

  • In 2018 and 2019, each of the five Gulf states will establish recreational fishing seasons for red snapper in its waters, including federal waters.
  • Licensed recreational anglers — fishing from private vessels, not charter-for-hire vessels — will be exempt from federal red snapper regulations and will be subject to fishing regulations set by each state.
  • Each state will monitor red snapper landings by private recreational anglers and close their season if its assigned quota is reached or is expected to be reached. 

— Published: April 2018

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