By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
While the second weekend of the private recreational red snapper season in Alabama saw near perfect conditions, the opening weekend proved why state management of the red snapper is so important to ensure maximum access to this treasured fishery.
Pent-up demand from a variety of reasons, including the COVID-19 restrictions, placed the May 22 opening day of snapper season in record territory.
“On opening day, that was the most people I’ve ever seen on a Friday,” said Alabama Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “Even though the weather was a little rougher, the harvest was almost the same as the 2018 numbers. People were just glad to have the opportunity to get out. They were tired of being at home. They felt this was a safe and enjoyable outdoor activity. And we agree.
“When I got to Dauphin Island at 8 o’clock on opening day, the trailers parked alongside the road were already backed up 7/10ths of a mile from the ramp (Billy Goat Hole). Saturday was another busy day. With the winds picking up Sunday and Monday, the activity was down a good bit.”
The 2018 and 2019 seasons were conducted under an EFP (exempted fishing permit) to allow state management and significantly increased the number of days private recreational anglers were allowed to catch red snapper over recent years.
With the approval of regional management beginning in 2020 for the five states on the Gulf of Mexico, each state sets its season, bag and size limits under certain parameters.
Because Alabama closely monitors the red snapper harvest through its Red Snapper Reporting System, Snapper Check, Marine Resources can adjust the seasons to allow anglers to catch as many fish as possible while staying within the state’s quota. Alabama’s private recreational season is set to run each Friday through Monday with a closing date tentatively set for July 19. The closing date may be adjusted to ensure the state’s quota of 1,122,662 pounds is met but not exceeded. Snapper Check numbers indicated 176,782 pounds of red snapper were harvested opening weekend.
Bannon and Chris Blankenship, the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, ventured out on opening weekend with old friends Brian and Daniel Rowe and crew and came back with a box full of red snapper.
“I had some concerns that the seas were going to be a little choppy,” Bannon said. “We had been talking to some boats that were struggling, so they stayed close and came back pretty early.
“In the afternoon, the wind died down. The bite was not hard and fast, but we caught big fish. We only caught a few undersized fish that had to go back. We caught everything from just over legal (16 inches total length) to a few just over 20 pounds. It was a real good trip.”
From a management perspective, Bannon said that’s what marine scientists like to see on a reef, a variety of sizes of snapper. He also said some of the relatively small reefs held good-sized fish.
On opening day, Bannon said the anglers used a variety of baits to target the red snapper and definitely saw a preference.
“They seemed to like the whole pogeys (menhaden) better than cigar minnows on that day,” he said. “People caught a lot of big fish that opening weekend, which generally happens in a season. People reported catching legal-size fish relatively quick. They didn’t have to throw many undersized fish back.”