Lane snapper

WaterLine file photo by Capt. Ralph Allen

It’s hard to be sure about the future, but it looks like there will be lots of lane snapper caught in 2022.

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about how our fishing may fare in 2022. Obviously, there must be fish to catch before we can catch fish. Therefore, anglers are highly dependent on the effectiveness of the efforts of fishery managers to ensure healthy fish stocks via size and bag limits and closed seasons.

But sometimes, fishing regulations become so restrictive or so out of sync with the up-and-down cycles of fish populations they seem to hamper the harvest rather than enhance it. Sadly, this seems to be the case especially with federal fishery management. Fortunately, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s efforts to manage fish stocks in Florida state waters have been relatively successful.

Gulf of Mexico

We are starting the year with closed seasons on gags, greater amberjack, red snapper and triggerfish. This actually expected, since these closures are due to established closed seasons for those species. There are some other deepwater species closed too, but pretty much everything else targeted by this region’s recreational anglers in federal waters is currently open.

As another fishing year begins, offshore anglers need to pay close attention to press releases from the Gulf Council to know what seasons may be unexpectedly opened or closed on the numerous species for which harvest can be controlled by the council. No one really knows what will happen this year with Gulf of Mexico fisheries but what does our crystal ball say?

Red grouper and lane snapper were both unexpectedly closed for a significant part of last year. Unfortunately, by the time the red grouper fishery was abruptly closed in September, Gulf anglers had significantly overrun our total allowable catch for 2021. The amount of overage from 2021 will be subtracted from our allowable catch for 2022.

The 2021 overharvest was substantial enough to make it likely that the season will close even earlier in 2022. Red grouper fishing this year could be done before the 4th of July — maybe way before.

In October, lane snapper season was also closed unexpectedly for the remainder of the year due to overharvest. Then in an unexpected twist, the emergency closure was reversed and the fishery was reopened even more abruptly on Dec. 23 with less than 24 hours notice.

The reason: The Gulf Council announced that we had significantly more lane snapper in the Gulf than was thought just a few months earlier when the emergency closure was enacted. How much more? Enough to justify tripling the allowable catch for 2022.

These abrupt and seemingly contradictory closures and openings don’t generate much angler confidence in the regulatory process. So what will 2022 bring for the lane snapper fishery? With three times 2021’s allowable harvest, we’d have to guess that the fishery will remain open all year, but that’s just a guess.

As if we don’t have enough worries, the Gulf Council is currently evaluating the fisheries for cobia, mangrove snapper, gag, scamp, greater amberjack and yellowtail snapper, among others. Since we seldom receive good news from the Gulf Council, we may be forgiven if we dread the arrival of the sure-to-come email announcements.

Charlotte Harbor

There is cause for guarded optimism regarding the fishing in Charlotte Harbor this year. Seagrass coverage in the Harbor expanded a bit over last year, possibly related to a drier-than-normal rainy season. And the regulatory situation for Charlotte Harbor anglers is much better than for Gulf anglers, because the FWC is doing a reasonably good job managing Southwest Florida’s inshore species.

This is mostly because Florida’s fishery management system allows the FWC to be relatively nimble in responding to fishery issues, compared to the slow-moving and bureaucratically challenged system that the Gulf Council is forced to use for regulating fish at the federal level.

Charlotte Harbor’s anglers are starting the year with closed seasons for snook and redfish. Trout season was opened back in June 1 with updated size and bag limits, and it remains open. The status of the ongoing snook and redfish closures is being watched carefully. The closures have been in place for several years to allow the stocks of these fish to recover from a red tide fish kill.

As of now, both closures are slated to end this summer. If the FWC takes no further action, redfish harvest will restart June 1 and snook harvest will resume Sept. 1. There are anglers who are pushing to have the closures extended and others who want to see those seasons open as scheduled. There will be much debate, some of it civil and some not, in the coming months.

In the meantime, our inshore fishing has been pretty good. Snook seem to be everywhere. Trout fishing has been good. Sheepshead season is ramping up. Black drum are being caught around most of the bridges. There are some Spanish mackerel and even a few small kings in the Harbor, along with lots of small cobia.

But there are some species which are not putting on a particularly strong showing. Redfish numbers have improved during several years of closed season, but not nearly to the level that many had hoped. So far this looks like a weak pompano winter in Charlotte Harbor.

And is anybody catching any numbers of whiting or silver trout? At this time of year, swarms of those fish should be easy to find on the bottom in the mouths of the Peace and Myakka rivers, but I have not heard much about them for some years now.

Regardless of whether you are fishing in the estuaries, out in the Gulf, or in your backyard pond there is one infallible truth: You can’t catch ‘em if you’re not putting a line in the water, so …

Let’s go fishing!

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

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