September 07, 2022
By Blair Wickstrom
The National Marine Fisheries Service now says we, the recreational angler, are catching too many red snapper out of season, resulting in too many fish dying after release. This announcement is on the tail of another ridiculously short two-day season in the Atlantic.
So, which is it? A fishery overfished, and not doing well enough for a season longer than two days? Or an ocean thick of chunky red snapper resulting in too many fish being caught out of season?
Jacksonville angler and Florida Sportsman editor Capt. Rick Ryals says it’s the latter. “We’ve never had a red snapper fishery this good. Not in the 1960s, not in the ’70s,” Rick exclaimed. “Never.”
However, John Carmichael, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, says the NMFS March 2021 stock assessment paints a slightly different picture. “The red snapper stock does show notable improvement in overall stock abundance, driven by strong recruitment in recent years. However, the red snapper stock is overfished and it is experiencing overfishing based on the fishing mortality rate, and the vast majority of the fishing mortality is from recreational releases.”
This is where bad can go to worse.
Because of this supposed high rate of discard mortality, “the Council is considering closing bottom fishing for all 55 species of snapper and grouper in the name of red snapper. This would unnecessarily harm Florida anglers at a time when the abundance of red snapper is at a record high and better data to inform future management is being gathered,” said Martha Guyas, Southeast Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association.
Emily Abellera, Public Information Specialist II, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) agrees that the Council is considering several potential management options including gear modifications, timed seasons, and area or depth closures. Emily also stated that the FWC is committed to working with the Council to find options to reduce release mortality; however, FWC strongly opposes any time or area closures off Florida.
As it stands today, the current stock assessment, which indicates we’re overfishing red snapper, is set in stone until 2028. However, we have hope that the independent 30-month study dubbed the Great South Atlantic Red Snapper Count will provide much-needed clarity on the true stock assessment.
East coast bottom fishermen, you, we, are in trouble.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) meets in Charleston, SC in September and they need to hear from anglers, you.
“To make these sweeping management decisions without considering the independent data that is on the way would be irresponsible,” said Jacksonville Congressman John Rutherford. And across the aisle Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy said this: “Florida has made progress in rebuilding the South Atlantic red snapper stock, and the ongoing Great Red Snapper Count will provide the data to demonstrate this progress."
The Council needs to hear from us, you, now. Before it’s too late. Let’s stop any further discussions of time and area closures. The public comment period is open via the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s website, and on September 14, 4 p.m. They will be taking public comments in person. However, for most of you who are reading this after September 14, your comments are still vital to the future of how the snapper fishery will be managed. For those of you in Cape Canaveral to Jacksonville, who have suffered through years of “Snappergate” please make the three to five-hour drive to Charleston. For those of you reading this, after September 14, please submit your comments via the SAMFC’s website. FS
CALL TO ACTION: SUBMIT A COMMENT
SUBMIT A COMMENT TO THE SOUTH ATLANTIC FISHERY MANAGEMENT COUNCIL: https://safmc.net/ events/september2022-council-meeting/
For those who are seeing this online, prior to the Sept. 14, 4 p.m., public comment period of the Council’s Sept. meeting, please attend in person. Red snapper and possible closures and gear restrictions will be discussed Tues. Sept 13, but the public comment period will be Sept 14 at the Town & Country Inn, 2008 Savannah Highway, Charleston, SC.
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine October 2022