Federal officials want to hear from the public about a proposal to open a red snapper fishing season off the Atlantic coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council proposed opening a season this summer for commercial and recreational fishing for red snapper after concluding the red snapper population is rebuilding, something local fishermen have been insisting for years.
Red snapper fishing in the federal waters of the South Atlantic was prohibited in 2010, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service concluded the species was over fished. Fishermen disputed those findings. Several mini-snapper seasons have been conducted, including a brief season last fall, the first in three years.
The proposed annual catch limit for this season would be 42,510 fish, with a total recreational catch limit of 29,656 fish over three-day weekends starting on the second Friday in July. Anglers would be limited to one red snapper per person per day, including private and charterboat/headboat vessels.
The Council approved the amendment to the NOAA Fisheries management plan after state and federal scientists reported an increasing abundance in red snapper, which indicates the population is rebuilding. A study by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission study showed a greater number of large red snapper and a broader range of ages in recent years.
Opening a season this year would not result in overfishing or prevent the snapper population from rebuilding, NOAA Fisheries reported.
The commercial annual catch limit would be 124,815 pounds whole weight during the season that would open on the second Monday in July, or as soon thereafter as possible. No minimum size limit is proposed for commercial or recreational fishing.
Because the commercial trip limit is 75 pounds gutted weight, the commercial season is expected to last about a month or two, depending on the weather, said Rusty Hudson, president of Directed Sustainable Fisheries Inc. of Daytona Beach.
After concern about the large number of red snapper that die as a result of being caught and released while fishermen are targeting other species, the amendment includes a series of best management practices. Examples include the use of descending devices and venting tools to allow released snapper to swim back down to the ocean bottom.
In a separate action this week, NOAA Fisheries granted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission a permit to manage private recreational red snapper fishing regulations in state and federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
Public comments are due by June 15. Comments made be sent through the NOAA website or the postal service.
To comment electronically, visit regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-0148 and click on the "Comment Now" icon.
Mail written comments to: Frank Helies, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.