The third and final three-day stretch of the 2017 red snapper mini-season in the South Atlantic region came and went last weekend, and the species came out virtually unscathed.
The three-day opening for recreational anglers was scheduled for Dec. 8-10, but coincided with a cold front that brought a major bout of wintry weather to the Southeast coast, nearly two weeks before the first day of winter.
The cold weather and rough seas stretched from the Carolinas down into north Florida, a stretch where the majority of red snapper are found along the Southeast coast, and fishing for the species was at a bare minimum during the three days.
The original six days of the mini-season (Nov. 3-5, 10-12) also featured predominately rough seas, save for Nov. 3, which led to NOAA Fisheries opening the species to harvest again for the final three days.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) encourages recreational anglers, including charter and head boat operators, to report any canceled trips using the pilot reporting program at MyFishCount.com.
Reporting the canceled trips could pay off in 2018.
The SAFMC proposed an interim catch level for red snapper at its September meeting that, if approved by the Secretary of Commerce, may allow a red snapper mini-season beginning in July 2018.
Efforts are underway to establish an acceptable biological catch for red snapper and scheduled for review by the council during its June 2018 meeting.
At its meeting Dec. 4-8 in Atlantic Beach, N.C., the SAFMC also moved forward with proposed measures to improve data collection and reduce by-catch of red snapper and other species in the snapper-grouper management complex. Public hearings on the measures will be held in 2018.
The Council also dealt with cobia and red grouper at the meeting.
*Cobia: It was a frustrating year in 2017 for South Carolina anglers wanting to harvest cobia.
The species was closed to harvest in federal waters (beyond three miles offshore) from Georgia to New York and South Carolina has coincided with closures in federal waters since 1996, meaning cobia were also closed in state waters off the Palmetto State.
However, neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina, plus Virginia, did not close the harvest of cobia in state waters.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages species in coastal waters from Maine to Florida, has developed an Interstate Management Plan for cobia, which could eventually consolidate cobia regulations in state waters along the Atlantic Coast.
The SAFMC is considering options for transferring management of cobia to the ASMFC, as well as the possibility of complementary management between the SAFMC and ASMFC.
With the status of cobia harvest in 2018 hanging in the balance, public hearings on the matter are scheduled for Jan. 22-24, 2018. The details of the meetings have yet to be determined.
*Red Grouper: The SAFMC reviewed a recent stock assessment for red grouper that shows the species is still overfished and undergoing overfishing.
At the Atlantic Beach, N.C. meeting the council approved measures to significantly reduce both the commercial and recreational annual catch limits for red grouper, from a total catch limit of 780,000 pounds to 139,000 pounds beginning in 2018.
Based on average landings from 2014-16, the recreational fishery for red grouper is projected to close in July 2018 with the reduced catch limit of 77,840 pounds.
Gregg Holshouser: firstname.lastname@example.org