Red snapper reaction and reef reporting

Courtesy of NOAA.gov

Courtesy of NOAA.gov

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did not back down in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council requesting an 11-day recreational red snapper season in federal waters for 2014.

At its meeting April 16 near Tallahassee, the FWC approved a 52-day red snapper season in state waters that starts May 24, which is the Saturday before Memorial Day, and runs through July 14. The daily bag limit is two fish per person. State waters extend nine miles from shore into the Gulf. The council dramatically shortened the recreational season to June 1-11 in response to a court ruling that anglers catch more than their allotted quota of red snapper – and that federal fishery managers need to put an end to that.

Florida officials know better than the feds that the red snapper population is thriving and the recreational quota should be even higher. According to the FWC, over the past 10 years, Florida has accounted for approximately 40-60 percent of the annual Gulf-wide recreational red snapper harvest, and a large portion of that harvest has occurred in state waters along Florida’s Panhandle.

To encourage anglers to catch red snappers in state waters of the Gulf, the FWC is opening the season on Memorial Day Weekend, a time when families and friends seek activities that they can enjoy together. The FWC hopes that opening the red snapper season a week earlier than usual on a holiday weekend also will attract more visitors to Panhandle coastal communities and result in a significant economic benefit.

The FWC also moved forward at its meeting with a proposal to create a Gulf Reef Fish Data Reporting System to help improve the collection of information on recreational reef fishing in state waters of the Gulf. The system would help determine how many anglers are targeting reef fish in the Gulf. Some of those anglers would be surveyed to provide more accurate catch data and effort data. It’s a lot easier to manage a fish species when you know how many anglers are fishing for it, how much time they spend fishing and how many of the fish they catch.

This is something that has been requested by Gulf recreational anglers because of what they claim is the inaccurate information collected by NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Recreational Information Program. That information is gathered by interviews at docks, although FWC staff noted that relatively few interviews are done. The MRIP also makes random phone calls to coastal households to estimate fishing effort if, in fact, anyone in that household actually fishes.

A final public hearing will be held at the FWC’s June meeting in Fort Myers. If the proposal is approved, recreational anglers fishing from a boat in Gulf state waters, excluding the Florida Keys, would be required to take part in the reporting system to keep red and vermilion snapper; gag, black and red grouper; gray triggerfish; greater and lesser amberjack; banded rudderfish; and Almaco jacks.

Anglers, captains and crews on for-hire vessels would not be required to take part in the system because they already have their own survey. There would be no cost for the program thanks to a five-year National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf restoration grant. The FWC directed staff to include language for a five-year sunset clause so that when the grant funding ends, the program would be evaluated and reconsidered. If the system is approved at the June meeting, data reporting would be required by April 1, 2015. The Gulf Reef Fish Data Reporting System will be set up, and anglers can report on a voluntary basis starting next month.

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Steve Waters has been the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel since August of 1990. He got his start in journalism in Charleston, S.C., where he was a sportswriter and covered sailing. In his spare time, he fished for striped bass on the famed Santee-Cooper lakes with one of the high school football coaches he knew and later bought a bass boat so he could fish there on his own. When his sports editor at his next paper, The Tuscaloosa News, found out he had a boat, he asked him if he wanted to cover the outdoors in addition to covering the Crimson Tide. It wasn't long before Waters realized that writing about fishing was way more fun than covering Alabama football. He went on to cover the outdoors for two more newspapers and a TV station, as well as sports ranging from golf and baseball to NASCAR and the NHL, before writing full-time about fishing, boating, sailing, diving, hunting, powerboat racing and environmental issues for the Sun Sentinel.

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