For the third straight year, there will be a recreational mini-season for red snapper in South Atlantic waters but the season will last for five total days, one day shorter than the two previous seasons.
Earlier this month, NOAA Fisheries announced the dates for the 2019 red snapper season will be the weekend of July 12, 13, 14 and again on July 19 and 20.
The limit again is one red snapper per person per day with no minimum size limit and applies to private and charter boat/head boat vessels. The captain and crew on for-hire vessels may also harvest one fish per day.
Access to red snapper has been all but shut down for South Atlantic recreational anglers for nearly a decade now, dating back to 2009 when the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined the stock was overfished and undergoing overfishing.
The South Atlantic red snapper fishery was closed in 2010 and a 35-year rebuilding plan was put in place.
Over the last nine years, there have been sporadic mini-seasons, including consecutive seasons in 2017, 2018 and now 2019, but largely the species has been closed to harvest since 2010.
The season lasted for six days in 2017 and 2018, but has been shortened by a day this year because NOAA Fisheries determined the catch by the recreational fishing sector in 2018 exceeded the recreational annual catch limit.
Since NOAA Fisheries estimates the season length based upon catch rates from the previous year, the 2019 season was shortened by one day to reduce the likelihood that the landings would exceed the recreational annual catch limit.
The 2019 recreational catch limit for red snapper in the South Atlantic Region, which stretches from the North Carolina-Virginia line southward through the entire east coast of Florida, is 29,656 fish.
The commercial red snapper season opens July 8 and runs through Jan. 1, 2020 unless the commercial annual catch limit is met before that date. The 2019 commercial catch limit is 12,854 fish.
Capt. Danny Juel, 61, of Fish Screamer Charters has been plying the waters off Little River for about 40 years, as a charter captain and a commercial fisherman. In Juel’s view, the red snapper fishery is in great shape.
“They are literally taking over the bottom in a lot of spots,” said Juel. “There’s tons of them. A lot of places you have to pull off the spot because you can’t keep a bait down trying to catch grouper or (other fish) because of the snapper you’re catching.
“They’re an aggressive fish, and they’re the first ones to the bait. You can stop on a spot and (catch) them as hard as you want to go but you can’t keep them. You have to dodge your snappers is what you’ve got to do.”
In past years, Juel has attended South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meetings to voice his thoughts and observations from the water on the red snapper stock.
“I’ve gone to meetings on numerous occasions,” said Juel, “but I’ve felt like I’ve wasted my breath. I quit going to those meetings about three years ago.”
Juel would like to see a longer red snapper season instead of a few weekends.
“Why don’t you have like a two-week opening rather than sporadic days?” Juel questioned. “I don’t agree with it but obviously it doesn’t matter what I think. I guess at least they’re trying to give us something.”