Federally licensed charter boats enjoy a 79-day snapper season

By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

NOAA Fisheries announced this weekend a 79-day season for for-hire vessels with federal reef fishing licenses in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The season for federally licensed for-hire vessels (charter vessels) will open seven days a week at 12:01 a.m. on June 1, 2022 and end at 12:01 a.m. on August 19, 2022.

The 2022 season for private recreational anglers opens the Friday before Memorial Day (May 27) and runs every Friday-Monday long weekend until Alabama’s annual quota is reached.

NOAA Fisheries said the total recreational quota for Gulf of Mexico red snappers is 7,399,000 pounds total weight. The private angling sector is allocated 57.7% and the for-hire sector 42.3% of the quota.

Although the 2022 quota for the federal for-hire component of the Gulf of Mexico is 3,130,000 pounds, the annual catch target is 2,848,000 pounds total weight, which represents 91% of the quota and provides leeway to prevent the sector from harvesting more than the quota. The quota for red snapper in the Gulf for the commercial and recreational sectors is 15.1 million pounds.

Meanwhile, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (Gulf Council), which met recently in Orange Beach, had some disheartening news about one of the Gulf species that anglers target when the season red snapper is closed – the greater amberjack.

Kevin Anson, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Marine Resources Division (MRD) representative to the Gulf Council, said recent amberjack assessments have raised concerns about the species. who fight hard and who tend to congregate around the structure in deeper water.

“Yelptail assessments dating back the past 20 years have indicated that the stock is overfished and/or is in an overfished state,” Anson said. “We have implemented several management measures over the past 5 to 7 years to try to improve the stock. They haven’t provided any benefit that we can see yet. We have reduced the number of seasonal days. We have increased the size limit. We lowered the catch limit (one fish per angler) and we just didn’t see any improvement in the stock.

“We are going to have to make tougher decisions in Council to get it to where there is no overfishing or overfishing. In the short term, we’re going to look at management that will try to get us to a point where we don’t exceed the annual bag limit. This is going to potentially mean that the length of the season will be much shorter.

Anson, MRD’s chief biologist, said raising the size limit for amberjack, which is already 34 inches in fork length, would likely be counterproductive. Catch limits could end up being reduced depending on the number of fish per vessel or the number of fishermen.

“There were discussions at the time we increased the size limit that it could lead to additional mortality,” he said. “Big fish don’t behave very well when you fight them, especially in the summer. Reducing the bag limit, while an option, is not a very good option at this point. At the angler level or at the vessel level, you’re talking about split catch limits, and those aren’t very acceptable to most people.

Anson said the Gulf Council will work in a timely manner to address the overfished status of greater amberjack. Once the Gulf Council is notified of the state of overfishing by NOAA’s Southeast Regional Administrator, the Gulf Council has two years to implement management actions to resolve the issue. of overfishing.

“There is no guarantee that the management decisions we make will restore the stock or help us harvest below the annual catch limit, but we must take different actions than our current management actions,” said Anson.

Although anglers fishing off the coast of Alabama are less impacted, gag grouper are also being overfished, which will impact our neighbors in Florida.

“It’s in a similar situation (to amberjack),” Anson said. “We need to address the overfishing designation. We may be able to make certain season closures that will have more impact. A reduction in the season is the easiest thing to do. We look to Florida to find out how to handle this. The majority of recreational and commercial catches of gag grouper come from Florida.

Looking ahead, Anson said the Gulf Council will again be faced with reduced cobia numbers, especially along the northern Gulf Coast. He said discussions outside of the Gulf Council process indicated some anglers were talking about shutting down the cobia season altogether to try to get the stock to rebound.

“I’ve heard more conversations about just shutting it down. It’s so bad that forums and fishing threads said don’t hesitate to shut it down. But it wasn’t. discussed in Council. We increased the size limit and reduced the bag limit, and it didn’t do much. We had discussions about seasons or a split bag limit, like for amberjack” , Anson said.

When I moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast 30 years ago to cover the outdoors, the annual spring cobia migration was a big deal. Now the cobia tournaments have ceased and anglers rarely see fish cruising the shore, let alone being bitten.

“It was pretty much gangbusters in the spring back in the day, depending on the weather and water clarity,” Anson said. “It disappeared. It’s a keepsake for those who knew fishing when it was better.

Earnest A. Martinez