NOAA Fisheries giveth, and NOAA Fisheries taketh away. As Gulf offshore anglers sat fuming about the unexpected closure of red grouper season, some good news arrived: Red snapper season is reopening, at least for those who fish from charter boats.
Red snapper management is a weird mish-mash right now. Commercial and for-hire fisheries are run by the federal government, but recreational seasons and limits are determined by the five Gulf states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida).
The feds originally set up the for-hire (charter boat) season to run from June 1 to Aug. 3. During that time, charter fishermen were expected to harvest 2,848,000 pounds (whole weight) of red snapper.
But according to NOAA’s landing data, only 2,177,887 pounds were brought in. (That’s a suspiciously precise number, but I’m letting it go for now.) That leaves 670,113 harvestable pounds still swimming around out there. Since the feds say we’re going to catch 30,292 pounds a day (another oddly exact number), that gives the charter boys another 22 days to have at them.
Therefore: The Gulf federal red snapper for-hire season will reopen at 12:01 a.m., local time, on Oct. 15 and will close at 12:01 a.m., local time, on Nov. 6.
Now, I cannot stress this part enough: This has zero effect on the private angler red snapper season, which is not currently scheduled to reopen until sometime in 2022. You cannot go out on your own boat and legally bring back red snapper. You have to go on a charter vessel that has a Gulf reef fish permit.
Lane snapper shutdown
OK, about that taking bit: Lane snapper are closing in federal waters starting Oct. 18, and will stay closed until New Year’s Day. So far, this closure does not apply in state waters, but the FWC is meeting this week and there is a very good chance they’ll mirror the federal closure (along with the closure of red grouper). Stay tuned.
What gives? Again, numbers. Our annual quota is 301,000 pounds, and the feds say we’ll hit that by Oct. 18. Plus, they say we caught more than our annual catch limit last year. And, as the rules clearly state:
“In accordance with regulations, if the stock annual catch limit is exceeded one year, then during the following fishing year, if the sum of commercial and recreational landings reaches or is projected to reach the stock annual catch limit, NOAA Fisheries must close the recreational and commercial sectors for the remainder of that fishing year.”
All cut and dry, except how they arrive at those numbers.
Eyes in the skies
There was some discussion on Facebook this past weekend about tournament anglers using drones to search for schools of redfish. Anglers in the tournament jumped in saying it wasn’t them and it was against tournament rules; anglers not in the tournament said it was definitely participants and they were rude to boot.
It might have happened, it might be rumor — I wasn’t there. The interesting bit to me was when someone jumped in to say he’d talked with FWC reps who told him drones couldn’t legally be used for hunting fish because of the following law:
68B-4.013 Limitation on Use of Spotter Planes: Beginning January 1, 1993, no person shall harvest any marine fish in any waters of the state with the aid of any spotter plane, except for those species allowed to be harvested with a purse seine pursuant to paragraph 68B-4.0083(1)©, F.A.C.
If the FWC wants to use this rule to stop the drone boys, I see a problem, and it’s the word “harvest.” We all know (I hope) that harvest of redfish isn’t legal at all right now. What we’re doing is catch-and-release fishing. Therefore, any hayseed lawyer can make the argument that a law talking specifically about harvest clearly does not apply to fishermen who cannot legally harvest their targeted fish.
I’m not defending the use of drones to hunt fish. It’s poor sportsmanship, especially in a tournament (if it did indeed happen). I would suggest that if the FWC wishes to apply this rule to drones, the wording needs to be changed. This law was written long before private camera drones were really a thing, so an update makes sense.
Say what you will about the FWC, at least they give anglers an opportunity to voice their opinions. Those opinions might not amount to a hill of beans, but you get a chance to say it regardless.
Just such an opportunity is coming to our doorstep Oct. 14, when the FWC will be holding a workshop right here in Port Charlotte to discuss state redfish regulations. Specifically, they want your input on updating the management approach and rule proposals for the redfish fishery.
Do they have a proposal to discuss? Are they considering reopening the season? Are they looking at making them catch-and-release forever? Dunno, they didn’t say. You have all the information I have, except the time and place, which follows: 6 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Charlotte County Board of County Commissioners chambers (18500 Murdock Circle, Port Charlotte).
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.