Atlantic Red Snapper Season Sucks? You Bet!

Conservation, Fish & Fishing, In The News, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized7 Comments


Practicing fast and proper catch & release tactics is a must if we're going to restore red snapper's upper end year classes.

Practicing fast and proper catch & release tactics is a must if we’re going to restore red snapper’s upper-end year classes.

“I heard red snapper season is closed?” The angry offshore angler’s yell caught me off guard. He was standing at the helm of his 25 Ft. World Cat, waiting at the ramp for a buddy to return with the truck and trailer. “The bottom’s covered up with snapper out there.” Pointing east away from the docks, he continued, “We must’ve released twenty between the two of us. Some of them were hogs; one was maybe eighteen or twenty pounds!”

The Port Canaveral fisherman’s face was crimson and full of puzzlement. I shook my head in agreement and didn’t even try to explain to him the why behind the closure; figured it would have only made him madder.

I don’t know how he knew; I had sat on the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, but he did. Thankfully he and his buddy were gone in five minutes, but not before I heard a couple more not-so-friendly comments drift my way.

The closure of Florida’s 2016 Atlantic Recreational Red Snapper Season makes little sense to me even though I understand the why. I don’t agree with the way we’re approaching the management of recreational red snapper fishing or like that, it has fallen into a damned if we do and damned if we don’t scenario. The reasons for this complicated Catch-22 situation are both bad and maybe, good. Management is twisted and out of balance because the federal government’s Department of Commerce manages red snapper as a commodity. This has played directly into the hands of commercial fishing interest for decades.

It’s bad news for recreational anglers wanting to catch and keep a couple of red snappers and backbreaking news to all the marine-related businesses depending on an influx of the economic benefits connected to an open red snapper season.

Happy recreational anglers pump millions of dollars into local coastal economies.

You’d think the close season would be an essential tool for rebuilding this valuable fishery. But with so many red snappers dying because of improper released and discard mortality, it will undoubtedly take years to repair this fishery. It is especially difficult because managers are trying to restore year classes between twenty and fifty years old.

Here’s the official word from NOAA on the 2016 Closure:

“In 2013, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council developed, and NOAA Fisheries implemented, a standardized process that specifies harvest may only occur in a given year if total removals (landings plus dead discards) in the previous year were less than the number allowed for population rebuilding. The total removals allowable for 2015 were 114,000 fish. After evaluating landings and discard information for 2015, NOAA Fisheries determined the estimates of total removals were 276,729 fish; therefore, the fishery remains closed in 2016.”


More anglers are using new release tools & tactics to better assure the survival of released deep water species.


Florida’s Sea Grant Program is working to distribute educational information to help anglers utilize new tools to help facilitate proper catch and release of red snapper.

Until recreational anglers learn how to practice correct catch and release of deeper water species or we help implement a different management strategy, you can bet we’re going to see few opportunities for them to take a red snapper from Florida’s Atlantic coast for many years.

A couple of days after the Port Canaveral incident an upset friend texted me, “We were drift fishing on a head boat outside the Port. I couldn’t believe how many red snapper we caught and killed. They were floating everywhere.”

Live reef 4

The importance of healthy habitat and clean water can’t be overlooked when it comes to managing marine fisheries.

7 Comments on “Atlantic Red Snapper Season Sucks? You Bet!”

  1. Bob Jones

    You said, “The reasons for this complicated Catch-22 situation are both bad and maybe, good. Management is twisted and out of balance because the federal government’s Department of Commerce manages red snapper as a commodity. This has played directly into the hands of commercial fishing interest for decades.”

    You don’t understand at all if you think the SA Council plays into our hands. We, the commercial fishermen, provide, or should be able to provide, a share of this commonly owned red snapper resource to non-boaters. Neither red snapper or any marine fish that has an allowable harvest, should be reserved strictly for anglers. The sustainable fish resources of America must be shared by all.

    Bob Jones

    1. admin

      I don’t disagree, Bob. However, when I came aboard with the SA Council, I noticed how the commercial side was profoundly connected to the process, and how few recreational anglers were in the room. One day I can see the commercial side using catch shares to take high dollar sportfishing anglers fishing for all offshore species.

  2. Chip Curry

    In response to Bob Jones – brother, you are the one who doesn’t understand. You talk about the “Federal Government” as if it isn’t “we the people”.

    The system of councils has taken decades to establish, and it’s working well for the fishery. We closed Redfish to protect them from extinction and now look, it’s almost up to a tenth of the number there used to be before commercial fishermen raped the resource.

    The pressure commercial guys put on themselves to meet excessive orders from wholesalers always becomes the obsessive drive for excessive removal of the fish. A reef or wreck can get cleaned off in a month when you let commercial interest have their way have way. I don’t care what they say about being responsible. The only thought in their mind during the day is, “I need more, and more, and more red snapper to make my personal quote and make money.”

    I have a term for you – “Tragedy of the Commons”. That’s what happens when when commercial fishermen dictate policy for Red Snapper.

  3. Ed Irby

    Not sure why Mr. Curry’s comments were in triplicate. Both Bob Jones and Chip Curry are right to a certain extent. We still manage our marine fisheries as common property. Whether that is appropriate or not has been debated since the writing of the Tragedy of the Commons. The Magnuson Act also continues that style of management. Bob is right marine resources are owned by ALL the people of the USA. Chip is right that managing any living resources can lead to tragedy and has. Yet the recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen, not necessarily the commercial industry, have far more in common than they are willing to accept. Meanwhile many use this long standing conflict between user groups as an excuse for lousy, inappropriate and unfair management goals.

    However “the commons” is not the problem. The problem is how NMFS collects data from the recreational fishery, how they model the stock and how management goals are set. When we were trying to manage swordfish NMFS could have cared less about rebuilding the stock to replace missing year classes. It took significant political pressure and the economic loss for NMFS to final get around to agreeing to management. Trying to restore red snapper to the level where supposedly missing cohorts (year classes) 20 to 50 are back in the fishery would require shutting down the fishery altogether. Of course we have little knowledge of how abundant those year classes were in the past because little to no appropriate data was being collected fifty years ago. Models remain a small imitation of the real world assuming the model is close to correct. I was told by a confidante still in the game that NMFS was using red snapper to “get back” at the sports fishermen for making their lives miserable. The only proof I have is my experience working for decades with NMFS and the fact that to rebuild year classes 20 to 50 means near zero fishing mortality. Chip uses the redfish example. Remember redfish in the Gulf was shut down completely for years, then tightly restricted by season, very narrow slots and small bag limit when finally reopened. The reason redfish were overfished and had missing year classes was that close to 90% of the young redfish were being harvested prior to leaving bays and estuaries to go offshore to join the adult stock.

    The issue here is setting proper and appropriate management goals and, just as importantly, the rate of recovery, the rate in reaching those goals. There is no reason that red snapper sports fishery couldn’t be open year around with tight bag limits but recreational fishermen also would need to move away and change their target after catching their bag limit instead of continuing to fish the same area. Learning to release fish taken out of deeper water takes practice, skill, patience and the desire to do one’s part to protect the resource. Taking the fish out of the water, especially larger fish, most especially during spawning season, holding them up for pictures then trying to release them is NOT appropriate even if the fish’s air bladder is not grossly inflated.

    1. admin


      Your answer is close to what I think. We must also keep the complete eco-system in mind while approaching the management of our inshore and offshore marine fisheries to sustain the future of both recreational and commercial fishing. And undoubtedly, recreational anglers need to become more proactivity engaged in this process.

  4. Rico

    NOAA uses such high mortality rates (40+%), that based on the figures they use for releases, we may never have a red snapper season in our lifetime!

    When I read the comments from the angler on the party boat, it infuriates me that there are floaters! Properly vented 99% return to fight another day. In deep water, those taken down with weight also survive. If you see this on a party boat again, say something to the captain.

    The position by the liberal scientific community that they are over fished and have not fully recovered is a complete distortion of the facts!!! For those that bottom fish, most of what are being caught, are red snapper, while fishing for other species.

    To point the finger at the commercial sector is counter productive, and unfair. They are under strict size, quantity and closure restrictions that they can’t and don’t want to wipe out spots any longer. Those days are gone. Look at those managing the species for your anger and frustration.

    I urge you to become proactive. Contact your congressman and senator and report this insane action. Contact NOAA & SAFMC and express your outrage of this unwarranted closure.

    Anyone contacting NOAA OR SAFMC should also protest the use of the word discards in place of releases. Discard means to throw away, and I don’t know of a single angler that throws them away!!!

  5. Mike

    The way I see this is that the NMFS has put a numerical absolute number of fish recreational anglers can catch, but the actual number is not known. At the moment the recreational anglers are catching many Red Snapper because the stock has rebounded and since the recreational season is so short they release most of the Red Snapper they catch. The NMFS has somehow conjured up a number (SWAG) of those unkown released fish that have perished. They then say the conjured up number of perished released fish is greater than the number of allowed catchable fish (an absolute number) thus the Red Snapper season remains closed. Sell your boats boys. If the allowable catch is zero then you’ll never get to catch another Red Snapper because the NMFS will always say the dead loss, remember that you have to release all Red Snapper, is bigger than zero. They have created a self-eating watermelon.

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