Recreational fishermen will have two 3-day weekends for fishing: Sept. 14-17 and Sept. 21-24. Fishing will open at 12:01 a.m. and close at the same time. Commercial fishermen will be allowed to harvest reds from Sept. 17-24.
The recreational limit will be one red snapper per day, with no minimum-size requirements to avoid any release mortality. Commercial fishermen will be allowed 50 pounds (gutted weight) per day, with no minimum-size requirements.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published an emergency rule in the Federal Register to temporarily open red snapper fishing in the Atlantic Ocean north of Key West, Fla. The rule was requested at the June meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
There are provisions to extend the seasons if bad weather does not allow fishing. This emergency rule is effective from Aug. 28 through Dec. 31.
This season is being allowed because federal fishery managers discovered that discard mortality is lower than what was projected in the studies that closed red snapper season on Jan. 4, 2010 to end overfishing and rebuild the stock as required by the current version of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Fisheries managers decided that fishermen should be able to harvest red snapper equal to the difference in projected and actual discard mortality.
Under the provisions of the emergency rule, recreational fishermen will be allowed to harvest 9,399 fish during the six days of fishing. Commercial fishermen will be allowed 3,668 fish or 20,818 pounds (gutted weight).
Butch Foster, a charterboat captain from Southport, N.C., isn't convinced the limited opening is a great idea.
"This may make some people happy to be able to catch and keep a red snapper, but I think if the fishery is in such bad shape it can only stand six days of fishing a year, it probably shouldn't be opened," he said. "I didn't think it was in that bad of shape when they closed it, and still don't, but this is almost an insult. The fishery is either in shape to open, or it should remain closed."
A benchmark stock assessment for red snapper is scheduled for 2014. The limited 2012 season should provide data that biologists otherwise would not have, including harvest data, age-composition data, catch-per-unit-effort data and fishery independent data from offshore sampling programs. This will be paramount for the ongoing management of the fishery, and the available ACL can be modified each year.