Finally - State Management of Red Snapper

Southern flounder have dominated fisheries management discussions over the past several months but I want to remind our readers to not take their eye off developments within the red snapper fishery.

During the past decade Texas recreational anglers endured a most disappointing trend of drastically reduced fishing opportunity in federally managed waters, to the tune of a proposed three day season at one point, while anglers in other states were given more liberal seasons and commercial fishermen barely missed a beat.

Speculation was rampant that Texas was being punished for TPWD’s decision to manage red snapper within Texas Territorial Waters that allowed a 365-day season and a four fish bag limit. Whether this is true is now moot. We still have our Territorial fishery and, finally, much expanded fishing opportunity beyond the nine nautical mile boundary.

On February 6, 2020, NOAA Fisheries gave final approval for individual gulf states to manage the recreational red snapper fishery beyond territorial boundaries. This is a huge victory for anglers, state management agencies, and all the businesses that thrive upon Gulf of Mexico recreational angling. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our legislators both state and national for their exceptional efforts in this fight, CCA and other organizations for their unflagging efforts in angler advocacy, the American Sportfishing Association, and many others.

State management of this fishery is a boon to recreational fishermen, no doubt, but we must never forget what got us into this mess in the first place. NOAA Fisheries, backed by a Gulf Council stacked with commercial fishing interests, insisted for years that the recreational sector was the main culprit in the decades long decline of the fishery. Well, we had no choice but to take that one on the chin because frankly, we had never been diligent in reporting our landings while the commercial side has always been tightly regulated and monitored in this regard.

So, all that’s changed – Hallelujah! Our fishing opportunity expanded greatly under an Exempted Fishing Permit during the 2018 and 2019 seasons and hopefully, under state management (and possibly a slightly larger harvest quota), it is expected that we will again be able to fish a seventy or eighty day window beginning June 1, 2020.

I must stress, though, that individual trip harvest reporting will be a huge factor in our ability to continue to enjoy more generous fishing opportunity going forward. Some might say that harvest reporting was our undoing during the shortened 2019 season but I must disagree. The best and surest route to greater fishing opportunity will always lie in angler willingness to report their landings. If you haven’t already learned, simply Google and get on the ball!

Another thing that we must get a better handle on is regulatory discard mortality. Snapper brought to the surface frequently exhibit barotrauma and unless they are handled properly they will surely be wasted. While venting these fish is the time-honored method, a descending device such as the SeaQualizer does a far better job. Every snapper boat needs one!