No Word on South Atlantic Red Snapper Season


It’s June, and NOAA Fisheries is yet to announce dates for the South Atlantic red snapper season… or even if there’s going to be one.

On the Atlantic Coast from the Carolinas down through Georgia and Florida, bottom fishers eagerly await what has become an annual rodeo to catch a few snapper during seasons that over the last few years span just two or three days in July. Federal fisheries managers say red snapper population assessments show a recovering fishery that is hampered by catch-and-release mortality during closed season for the species.

Recreational anglers are frustrated. Reports from captains and private anglers indicate an abundance of red snapper. Coastal Angler Magazine’s Tim Barefoot said he can’t get baits down through the red snapper to catch the grouper he’s looking for. Anglers are catching and releasing more snapper, and that leads to an increase in catch-and-release mortality in NOAA’s models.

Conservation organizations, notably the Coastal Conservation Association, continue to question the data collection methods of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Services. Serious flaws in the federal statistics used to manage coastal fisheries seemingly pop up every year, and while NOAA has admitted to these flaws, they continue using the flawed data.

In the meantime, anglers await announcement of the South Atlantic Snapper season, and NOAA issued the following press release on June 3:

Exploring Innovative Strategies to Reduce Red Snapper Discards

NOAA Fisheries is recommending nearly $900,000 in funding for projects that will reduce discards and increase fishing opportunities.

Fishing is a favorite pastime and an economic driver, especially in the Southeast. NOAA Fisheries recognizes that recreational and commercial fishers, fishery managers, and others are frustrated by short fishing seasons for South Atlantic red snapper and high levels of dead discards. Last year the season was just two days.

The most recent South Atlantic red snapper population assessment indicates the species is recovering. However, it is experiencing too much fishing mortality—largely as a result of the number of fish that are discarded and subsequently die.

“We understand anglers are frustrated. We as managers are also frustrated and see the need for new, innovative management strategies to reduce snapper-grouper dead discards, including red snapper,” said Andy Strelcheck, NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Regional Administrator. “We also need to better realize the social and economic benefits for the snapper-grouper fishery, and provide additional fishing opportunities as we recover fish stocks.” 

NOAA Fisheries is recommending five projects for funding, totaling $879,211. These projects will explore new, innovative approaches to better understand and reduce red snapper dead discards and increase fishing opportunities in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery.

Projects Recommended for Funding
The projects below outline the scope of work, the organization doing the work, and the amount requested to complete the projects.

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is requesting $209,683 to support a project characterizing South Carolina charter and private recreational red snapper fishing behavior, catch, and discard composition.

Mote Marine Laboratory
Mote Marine Laboratory is requesting $144,666 for portable electronic monitoring systems to support innovative technology data collection in the South Atlantic recreational snapper-grouper fishery.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is requesting a total of $502,862 to fund three projects. They will look at ways to reduce red snapper and snapper-grouper discards and improve angler satisfaction using their Hot Spot, Florida Snapper-Grouper, and Red Snapper Full Retention Study Fleets.
These three projects require an Exempted Fishing Permit. They would test management strategies that could:

  • Reduce discards of red snapper and other managed snapper grouper species
  • Create additional opportunities to participate in sustainable recreational harvest
  • Improve angler satisfaction

Fishery managers and scientists could use the results of the studies to reduce recreational dead discards and increase fishing opportunities in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery. If granted, the permits would authorize a limited recreational harvest of red snapper outside of the federal recreational season in South Atlantic federal waters. It would also exempt that harvest from the recreational bag and possession limits, recreational annual catch limits, and accountability measures. If granted, the permits would be valid from the date of issuance through June 31, 2025.

All studies will require the cooperation and participation of private recreational anglers and charter captains. Through this collaborative work, our goal is to gather information and data to better quantify and reduce discards, improve fishing opportunities, and inform future management. Funding these projects is a crucial part of a multiple-part plan to improve management.

Other Efforts to Evaluate and Enhance Data Collection

In addition to the funded projects, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is going to conduct a Management Strategy Evaluation of the snapper-grouper fishery. These evaluations allow scientists and managers to evaluate and test various management strategies to determine how best they will perform and meet management goals.  In addition, the South Atlantic Red Snapper Research Program will produce an independent estimate of the population size of red snapper aged 2 years and older from North Carolina to Florida. This study will help inform the next population assessment for red snapper.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is also continuing to evaluate management actions to end the overfishing of red snapper, as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. NOAA notified the Council in summer 2021 that overfishing was occurring, but it has yet to take action to end the overfishing of red snapper.

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