Outdoors column: Red snapper window extended to 8 days in 2014

For the third straight year, NOAA Fisheries will offer anglers in the South Atlantic region a window of opportunity to catch and actually harvest red snapper, and the window is a little more open.

Red snapper have been off-limits to anglers in the South Atlantic since Jan. 4, 2010 except for a three-day weekend each of the last two years in the late summer.

The 2014 recreational red snapper season will last for a total of eight fishing days – this year in July – with anglers allowed one fish per person per day with no minimum size limit.

While the number of fishing days has increased from three to eight, the recreational catch limit has increased from 9,585 fish in 2013 to 22,576 fish in 2014.

Off the Carolina coast, red snapper are more of an incidental catch, as species such as black sea bass, vermilion snapper and grouper are the staple species landed on reef, or bottom, fishing trips.

The increased season will be greeted with open arms from south Georgia and to central Florida along the South Atlantic coast, where red snapper are highly-sought and more abundant as a staple species.

The eight days of the 2014 red snapper season fall on weekends: July 11-13; July 18-20 and July 25-26.

“We’re excited about it,” said Seth Williams, General Manager of Crazy Sister Marina in Murrells Inlet. “We’ve been catching 1-2 a week on our three-quarter and all-day trips. It will be nice to keep one every now and then. We’re not against the closure if it will help them come back to where we can catch them more often.

“We’ve been catching them but taking a pic and having to release them. We’re looking forward to putting a few on the dock.”

Anglers who land red snapper during the mini-season are urged to save the carcasses after cleaning the fish.

Biologists with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources need to gather biological information from the carcasses that may be used in red snapper stock assessments.

S.C. DNR has a number of locations where the carcasses can be dropped off and stored in designated freezers. Local locations are:

• Fish On Outfitters, 800 Sea Mountain Hwy., North Myrtle Beach.

• *Harrelson’s Seafood Market, 4368 U.S. 17 Business, Murrells Inlet.

• Georgetown Landing Marina, 432 Marina Drive, Georgetown.

“We’re trying to see a wide variety of fish as far as carcasses go,” said Mel Bell, director of S.C. DNR’s Office of Fisheries Management and a member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. “We’ll measure them, get the otoliths (for age analysis). We’re doing genetics work from a fin clip. We’re interested in tracking the year-class strengths and this is a way to get some biological data. We’re trying to understand the fish and the population a little better.”

The question is, after over four years of being shut down in the South Atlantic, when will red snapper once again be governed by a daily bag and size limit based on an annual catch limit (ACL)?

The eventual answer will be put into motion in 2015, Bell says.

“We’ve got a stock assessment coming up and data review will be conducted this year and finished next year,” said Bell. “Then we’ll have a snapshot of the condition of the stock. That could then lead to a change in management approach. The trick with red snapper is, compared to black sea bass, it’s a much longer living fish. You’ve got a harder, more involved effort in rebuilding.

“But in 2015, we’ll take a look at how things are. A year-round fishery will eventually happen I think with red snapper.”

S.C. Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series

The third leg of the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series was held last weekend with the Carolina Billfish Classic.

The event was based out of Toler’s Cove Marina in Mt. Pleasant with Georgetown Landing Marina serving as a satellite location for meatfish weigh-ins.

As June draws to a close, releases in the tournament revealed that, as expected, sailfish activity is on the upswing.

A total of 23 sailfish, nine blue marlin and one white marlin were released in the tournament with no blue marlin weighed in. Of the 28 boats that competed in the tournament, six fished out of Georgetown.

Charleston entry Petrel earned the win with a total of 2,000 release points after releasing two blue marlin and four sailfish. Toler’s Cove entry Sportin’ Life was second with 1,200 points for releasing two blue marlin.

Georgetown Landing Marina entry Rascal, owned by Norman Pulliam and captained by Mark Rogers, took third place with 1,000 points, after releasing a blue marlin and two sailfish.

Little River entry Russellhatt narrowly missed out on third place after also tallying 1,000 release points.

As Wallace Jenkins, S.C. DNR Governor’s Cup co-coordinator, pointed out, which ever boat gets the points first wins and Rascal reached 1,000 points three minutes quicker than Russellhatt.

Eleven-year-old Graham Rogers Griggen aboard Rascal, won the second-place Youth Angler award by releasing a sailfish.

The fourth leg of the Governor’s Cup will be held July 9-12 with the MEGADOCK Billfishing Tournament out of Charleston City Marina.

For more information, visit www.govcup.dnr.sc.gov.