Local charter fishing boat captains say they are gearing up for a busy couple of weekends now that federal officials have opened up a red snapper “mini-season” for the first time since 2014.
“It’s going to be nuts,” said Guy Spear, who runs MisStress Sportfishing Charters.
“I put it on my Facebook page and within four hours I had four of the six days booked,” he said Monday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement announced Friday that it would allow recreational snapper fishing for two three-day weekends in federal waters on Nov. 3 through Nov. 5 and Nov. 10 through Nov. 12, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council said in a Friday news release.
The council voted in September to recommend the so-called mini-season as well as a possible 2018 season.
Officials closed the red snapper fishery in Atlantic federal waters in 2010 amid concerns that the population had been over-fished (regulations are different in the Gulf of Mexico). But fishermen were allowed to enjoy abbreviated recreational seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Then in 2015, NOAA closed the red snapper fishery in South Atlantic federal waters completely after implementing a process from the council for determining when to allow harvesting.
It has stayed closed since.
But the council has received considerable pushback in recent years from fishermen who say the species has grown in numbers in the waters they fish regularly and often have a hard time avoiding them.
Spear said Monday that has been his experience.
“The day before yesterday we were 18 miles out just trying to stay away from the snapper and we still caught 20,” he said.
Robert Johnson, owner of Jodie Lynn Charters, said he is expecting a busy two weekends for both of his boats as well.
“One of them is booked solid and I anticipate the other will be booked Friday, Saturday and Sunday too,” he said.
Johnson said he is about 75 percent booked for the six days, and the only thing that he thinks is slowing business down is that the first weekend coincides with the opening of deer season.
“There’s people that want to go,” he said, “it’s just unfortunate it coincides with the opening of general gun season.”
Darryl Lloyd, co-owner Sea Love Charters, said he isn’t totally booked either, but suspects he will be by the time the boats start leaving the docks.
“We still have room, but as word gets out it will fill up,” he said.
The recreational bag limit for the two weekends is one fish per person, per day with no minimum size limit.
Fishermen taking advantage of the two recreational weekends are asked to use “best fishing practices” in order to “minimize the number of released red snapper and help improve the likelihood that released fish will survive,” the release said.
Those practices include moving away from areas likely to have red snapper once bag limits have been met, as well as promptly removing hooks from fish that won’t be kept and quickly returning them to the water. Fishermen are also asked to recognize the signs of “barotrauma” in fish brought up from deep waters and to use descending devices to safely release such fish.
More information about the season, best practices, and a pilot program that gives fishermen an opportunity to report their catch for data collection purposes can be found at: safmc.net/electronic-reporting-projects/red-snapper-reporting/.