A Bonus Red Snapper Season Report

By Chuck Alford

On Sept. 30, Florida announced a bonus Gulf of Mexico red snapper season on Saturdays and Sundays from Oct. 17 until Nov. 1. Here’s a report from our experience with the bonus snapper season.

About two minutes after the press release was issued, some good friends called wanting to hit the water. The weekend of Oct. 24-25 was our window to put bonus fillets in the freezer. Between weather systems, that middle weekend looked good, so plans were made.

I had just finished installing a Rhodan trolling motor on my boat, and after a few minutes of fishing, I realized how much being able to anchor lock on an offshore spot without messing with an anchor is a game changer. I was actually able to fish without spending most of my effort trying to hold the boat over the spot with the outboards.

We easily limited on red snapper and managed three scamp grouper and one red grouper. We also caught a huge vermillion snapper along with several red porgies and a few red grouper and amberjack that were too short and went back in. It was a great trip.

For years, the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fisheries Management councils have been limiting the length of the red snapper seasons. Their data showed snapper were overfished. The problem is, while a couple of decades ago you hardly ever caught a red snapper, now there are so many you have trouble getting a bait past them to catch other fish in season, such as grouper.

A few years ago, the Gulf Council limited the season to three days for a couple of years, but has since opened it up to 40 days or so, and last year handed control of the fisheries over to the Gulf states, which is a big improvement. I think we are going to start having longer seasons.

The South Atlantic Council, on the other hand, opened a five-day season this year with a limit of one fish per person, versus the two per person in the Gulf. I hope the SAFMC is paying attention to the GFMC and will open up the fishing on our east coast in the future.

The good news is that in 2016 Congress authorized the Great Red Snapper Count, which finished up this year and determined there are up to three times the number of red snapper in the Gulf as was previously thought—by the fisheries management folks, not fishermen who were fighting through snapper every trip. With the states—who understand the economic value of this fishery—now in charge and the new data, I think we will get more opportunity to catch these delicious fish in the future.

Chuck Alford is president of the Atlanta Saltwater Sportsman Club and has a boat and residence in Panama City Beach. For more information about ASWSC, visit www.aswsc.org, email info@aswsc.org, and  like them on Facebook “Atlanta Saltwater Sportsman Club.”

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