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Snapper Season Closing Date Still Undecided
By DAVID RAINER
Gulf anglers only got half the answers they were looking for recently when the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met at Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach.
The council affirmed the opening day of red snapper season as June 1. However, due to the closure of most of the Gulf during last year’s oil spill disaster, there may be additional fish available for the recreational quota, although that is not a certainty.
Bob Shipp, chairman of the Gulf Council and head of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama, said the governors from the five Gulf States have asked NOAA Fisheries to consider the impact of the oil spill on the recreational red snapper fishery, which fell short of last year’s quota by about a million pounds.
“The governors asked that the underage be rolled over into this season,” Shipp said. “It’s not quite that simple. The stock assessment people have to look at it and rerun the numbers and see what impact that would have, not only for this year, but also on the stocks in the ensuing years. So, if nothing changes, the season will likely end in late July.
“If we do get some additional poundage, the council will have the option for a fall weekend season like we did last year. Or we could roll it over and have a spring weekend season in 2012.”
Shipp said during the public testimony period, he felt the charter boat industry would prefer the additional fishing opportunity be rolled over into the spring.
“I think they would prefer to have the additional fishing in the spring rather than the fall,” he said. “They really miss having the spring season. With the fall season, there’s hunting and football and a lot of other things going on. I feel sure spring is preferred.”
Although the total allowable catch for the recreational sector was raised slightly, Shipp said the recovery of the red snapper fishery has caused an increase in the size of the fish being caught, which means the recreational sector will reach its poundage quota with fewer fish. Shipp has pushed for a quota based on the number of fish caught instead of poundage, but NOAA Fisheries said the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not allow for such a change.
Capt. Johnny Greene, who operated the Intimidator out of Orange Beach and also sits on the Gulf Council, said projections from NOAA Fisheries indicate the red snapper season would last from 45-55 days, which makes a different approach to the season more appealing to the charter industry. That different approach is called “Days at Sea,” which would give the for-hire sector a certain number of days to catch their red snapper.
“The ‘Days at Sea’ program seemed to be well-received,” Greene said of the public hearing. “It’s probably one of the few options we have that wouldn’t get into a real bloody allocation battle between private boat fishermen and charter boat guys. The way I understand it, if the recreational sector gets a 50-day season, the for-hire sector could get 45 days that they could use whenever they choose. Since there is a very limited number of charter boats in the grand scheme of things and all the regulator agencies know who the charter boats are, this will give charter boats the flexibility to sell a trip when available instead of being confined to a small season that opens in June and closes in July.
“I think it’s a neat idea and I hope it can be expanded because of the flexibility. But we need to be careful because when NOAA Fisheries sets a season they do factor in a number of things like bad weather. The neat thing is if we had a hurricane or bad weather during snapper season, you wouldn’t necessarily lose that trip. You would just reschedule for another time. Or a party boat could set up a ‘Snapper Saturday,’ where they would go snapper fishing every Saturday if there were enough days available. It’s forward thinking. I hope it gains some momentum. I really want to look at this.”
Capt. Randy Boggs, who runs the Reel Surprise out of Orange Beach, said he’s certainly willing to try a new approach to red snapper season.
“A charter boat ‘Days at Sea’ program and a head boat IFQ (individual fishing quota) would certainly bring relief to the charter industry,” Boggs said. “That would give us more days to fish and we could scatter the days out throughout the year and not have to suffer through the hurricane season. That would certainly give us some relief.”
However, Boggs said as more people enter the recreational fishery, the pressure on the fishery resource will continue to rise.
“As the numbers in the recreational fishery grow, there’s no relief in sight on a longer red snapper season,” he said. “The projection I’ve seen is the season is going to be shorter. They’re going to release more fish, but the season will get shorter because the fish are getting larger. And as the recreational sector has grown, there’s more people out there, spending more time out there. As they release more fish, they’re caught in a shorter number of days.”
The Gulf Council, which will determine the closing date of snapper season at its June meeting in Key West, also let stand a motion approved last fall that would close amberjack season June 1 through July 31 to ensure recreational anglers would have other fish to pursue after snapper season is over.
“The intent was to try to have some type of trophy fish open year-round,” Greene said. “The highest landing period for amberjack is June and July, so we have to give up something. As a council, we decided to shut down amberjack during the red snapper season to defer amberjack season into the fall so perhaps some people, who enjoyed a great fall season last year, will come back to the Gulf Coast and do some fall fishing again this year.”
Greene also said that the interest in Gulf fishing has rebounded somewhat since impact of the oil spill continues to fade.
“The phone is ringing and people are inquiring about the how things are looking,” he said. “The biggest problem we have right now is that fuel is up about $1.40 since the first of the year. We’re having a hard time dealing with that.”
Boggs said that a few people are asking about the oil and he’s tried to assure the callers that he has seen no lingering impact.
“From what we’ve seen, the fish are healthy,” Boggs said. “The slime coats on the fish are good. We haven’t seen any fish with lesions. We fish straight south of Perdido Pass. We went out (last Thursday) and caught and released several red snapper while we were fishing for vermilion snapper and the fish had a beautiful slime coat. The fish appear to be perfectly healthy. I was also relieved to see several four- to six-inch red snapper come up in the chum, so there’s a new crop of fish coming on. I was proud to see that. I have great hopes for the future.”
PHOTO: (By David Rainer) The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to close the amberjack season from June 1 through July 31 to give recreational anglers a “trophy” fish to catch while red snapper season is closed.