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Red Snapper Season Announced For South Atlantic & It's Abysmal

Measly recreational red snapper season announced for the South Atlantic, and that's using the term "season" liberally.

Red Snapper Season Announced For South Atlantic & It's Abysmal

NOAA Fisheries announced what they referred to as "limited openings" of recreational and commercial red snapper seasons in South Atlantic Federal Waters. Not sure how else it can be phrased, but in the recreational sector "limited openings" doesn't really seem like an accurate description of the approved "season" timeframe. You better sit down for this one. Recreational fishermen will get... two days. 48 hours. Again. Two days of absolute chaos at the docks and on the reefs, with each angler getting to take home a single red snapper of any size.

Meanwhile, the Gulf Red Snapper Recreational season offers a little more to enjoy with a consecutive 46-day summer season and a segmented 24-day fall season consisting of every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October and November. This adds up to a total of 70 days of red snapper fishing for Gulf Coast recreational anglers. They will also have a bag limit of two per person, a minimum size of 16", and a 10 per harvester per day aggregate limit.

And Atlantic fishermen are lucky to have two days— the raw deal further soured by the looming threat of bottom fishing closures and limited entry for recreational anglers.

Anglers are in an uproar, and rightly so.

atlantic red snapper swimming underwater
Captain Rick Ryals claims, "In Northeast Florida, there are so many snapper that tossing your leftover bait overboard will almost immediately bring them to the surface."

Captain Rick Ryals, Florida Sportsman Offshore Editor, has made his opinions on red snapper fishery management quite plain, "In case you’ve been living in a cave, red snapper have now overrun every fertile piece of bottom structure inside of 140 feet of water off the Northeast Florida coast. We’ve never had a red snapper fishery this good. Not in the 1960s, not in the ’70s,” Rick exclaimed. “Never.”

"While a determined few of us have tried to catch triggerfish, vermilions, and sea bass inshore of 140 feet, we’ve seen it more difficult to avoid the snapper every year." He continues, "Now, I can’t help but think I’ve really heard it all. Now we are looking at various types of even more restrictive seasons because, ARE YOU READY? We are encountering so many red snapper while we're fishing for other species, that the protected red snapper cannot survive the mortality of the ones we’re throwing back." To put it simply, "That means we are supposed to stop fishing because we are encountering too many red snapper as bycatch. Essentially the stop light is on because we have so many snapper we can’t fish for them."

atlantic red snapper barotrauma venting
Fisheries managers claim that restrictions on red snapper are due to, "recreational anglers catching too many red snapper out of season, resulting in too many fish dying after release."

Florida Sportsman Senior Editor, Blair Wickstrom, expressed his outrage last year 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?"

Something's not adding up here.

atlantic red snapper with descender device attached to mouth
With laws enforcing the use of descending devices to revive fish suffering from barotrauma, one would assume the survival rates have since increased.

Even the Coastal Conservation Association made a public announcement this week after hearing of the approved season, "With a biomass of red snapper that is estimated to be the largest that anyone alive has ever seen, NOAA has announced an abysmal two-day season for recreational anglers and a one-fish-per-person bag limit. We have been encouraged by the growing use of descending devices to increase catch and release survival rates for snapper and other deep-dwelling species, but continue to be frustrated by an inflexible federal fisheries management system that relies entirely on suspect data and outdated models to manage this dynamic population of fish. Every indication from federal fisheries managers is that these hours-long red snapper seasons will be the norm, and that is simply unacceptable. With NOAA Fisheries actively pursuing additional restrictive measures such as bottom fishing closures and limited entry for recreational anglers, it is time for the South Atlantic states to come together and take on greater management responsibilities to improve the mismanagement of this fishery and allow appropriate public access to South Atlantic marine resources. The announcement of the 48-hour season is another frustrating example of an inflexible federal fisheries management system that many see as punitive rather than constructive."

Nail on the head.

We'll be sure to offer opportunities for you to share your opinions with NOAA and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council should they announce an opportunity for public input on future red snapper fishery management.

See the full NOAA press release below for more details on the South Atlantic seasons for 2023:

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NOAA Fisheries Announces Limited Openings of Recreational and Commercial Red Snapper Seasons in South Atlantic Federal Waters 

What/When:

Each year, NOAA Fisheries announces the season opening dates for red snapper in federal waters of the South Atlantic, in addition to the recreational season length. For the 2023 season:

  • The recreational sector will open for harvest on the following 2 days: 
    • July 14 and 15, 2023 (Friday and Saturday) – The recreational season opens at 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 14, 2023, and closes at 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 16, 2023.
  • The commercial sector will open for harvest at 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 10, 2023, and will close at 12:01 a.m., local time, on January 1, 2024, unless the commercial annual catch limit is met or projected to be met before this date.
  • If the commercial sector closes before 12:01 a.m., local time, on January 1, 2024, NOAA Fisheries will announce it in the Federal Register and publish another Fishery Bulletin.

During the Limited Open Seasons:

  • The total annual catch limit is 42,510 fish.
  • The recreational annual catch limit is 29,656 fish. 
  • The recreational bag limit is one red snapper per person per day. This applies to private and charterboat/headboat vessels (the captain and crew on for-hire vessels may retain the recreational bag limit).
  • The commercial annual catch limit is 124,815 pounds whole weight (12,854 fish). 
  • The commercial trip limit is 75 pounds gutted weight.

There are no minimum or maximum size limits for the recreational or commercial sectors.

Frequently Asked Questions

How did NOAA Fisheries determine the red snapper season length for the recreational sector?

  • NOAA Fisheries used 2020, 2021, and 2022 recreational catch rate estimates to predict the recreational landings in 2023 and the season length.
  • Catch rate estimates were available from the following data sources:
    1. red snapper specific surveys for private recreational and charter vessel anglers conducted by South Atlantic states,
    2. Marine Recreational Information Program, and
    3. Southeast Region Headboat Survey.

What are some best fishing practices while fishing for red snapper?

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council identified the following best practices to reduce release mortality and further protect the population as it rebuilds: 

  • Avoid areas likely to have red snapper if you already have met your recreational bag limit. If you are approaching your commercial vessel limit, move to a different area.
  • When red snapper are out of season, avoid areas where they are common.
  • Use single hook rigs since the recreational bag limit for red snapper during the proposed limited fishing seasons will be one per person per day. This will potentially reduce the number of red snapper that are caught on one drop.
  • Use non-offset circle hooks while fishing in areas where red snapper are common.
  • Use a dehooking device to remove the hook. Keep fish in the water if you plan to release them or return them to the water as quickly as possible.
  • Use descending devices when releasing fish with signs of barotrauma.

Where can I find more information on the red snapper limited openings?

  • Contact NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
  • By Mail: Mary Vara 

NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
Sustainable Fisheries Division
263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505

  • By Phone: (727) 824-5305 
  • By FAX: (727) 824-5308 
  • Media contact: Allison Garrett, 727-551-5750



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