Locals are hopeful feds will reopen red snapper fishery off Florida’s northeast coast – Florida Times-Union
Local fisherman say officials should consider re-opening the red snapper fishery in the federally controlled waters off of Florida’s northeast coast this year, but after years of being told it won’t happen, they don’t sound too hopeful.
While the season remains open year-round in the state-controlled Atlantic waters between the coast and 3-miles offshore (regulations are different in the Gulf of Mexico), fishermen say there are virtually no snapper to be had there.
“You won’t catch a snapper around here in state waters,” said Capt. Luke Jarriel, a boat captain for Sea Love Charters that operates out of Cat’s Paw Marina.
But they are thick, he said, at the spots 16-20 miles offshore, where he was fishing Monday with about 30 clients.
He estimated those clients caught about 60 red snapper, none of which could be kept.
“And that’s on the modest end,” he said Monday evening as he helped some clean the fish they could keep.
It’s numbers like those that make Jarriel and his boss, Sea Love’s co-owner, Darryl Lloyd, think the population is strong enough to start fishing again.
“You’ll see more red snapper than pretty much any fish you will see out there,” Lloyd said Monday while waiting in the marina parking lot for his boat to return.
Lloyd said he could only speak to the waters around the Northeast Florida area, but what he and his captains see from week to week suggests they should be allowed to keep the snapper they are catching anyway.
Officials closed the fishery in 2010 amid concerns the population had been over fished. Fishermen then enjoyed “mini recreational seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014,” according to the website for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which helps develop processes for determining fisheries closures for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement.
Then in 2015, NOAA closed the red snapper fishery in South Atlantic federal waters completely after implementing a process from SAFMC for determining when to allow harvesting.
That process, according to the NOAA-Fisheries website, set a threshold for total fish “removals” — which included landings and “dead discards” — that, if exceeded, would not be conducive to “population rebuilding.”
In 2014, the threshold was 106,000 and NOAA estimates put the total number of removals at more than 205,000, which initiated the 2015 closure.
Then, in 2015, the threshold was 114,000 with estimated removals inching toward 277,000, prompting the second year of the closure.
“The majority of the total removals, an estimated 276,729 fish, are attributed to dead discards within the private recreational fishery as fishermen encounter more red snapper while targeting other species,” the SAFMC’s website says.
If that’s the case, Lloyd says, officials might as well let people keep the red snapper they catch.
“When you are fishing it is kind of hard to be selective,” he said. “If they are dying why aren’t we just keeping them?”
He expressed frustration with the data collection process which relies, at least in part, on charter companies reporting their catches.
Lloyd said he knows the officials are concerned with the fish that die, but it also seems that they are ignoring the growing numbers of reported catches.
“It seems we are cutting our nose off to spite our face,” he said.
The fish, Lloyd said, sometimes die from trauma associated with being brought up from the deeper waters where they are usually found. There are procedures, like one called “venting” that can help alleviate some of the pressure on the fish’s body, but, once returned to the water, they can also get snapped up by predators as they return to the depths — something that can also happen while they are still on the hook.
Indeed, the SAFMC’s website says scientists estimate 40 percent of the fish that are caught don’t survive.
Jarriel acknowledged that a few of the fish do die, but, he said, at least when he is fishing, the numbers are nowhere near that 40 percent figure. Clients on Monday said they didn’t see one snapper that looked like it wouldn’t survive the catch.
Representatives at SAFMC could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
Their website, though, indicates officials have heard, and are thinking about, the concerns of fishermen.
“No one wants to continue to see the large numbers of red snapper being discarded while this valuable fishery remains closed to harvest,” Council chair Michelle Duval is quoted as saying after a June meeting in Cocoa Beach. “Stakeholders have made it clear that managers must consider alternative management options and we agree.”
Among the topics discussed at the meeting were “a comprehensive adaptive management approach that may allow harvest of red snapper as the stock continues to rebuild.”
That approach could include “options to reduce discards” such as establishing a federal private recreational snapper grouper fishing season, allowing a limited recreational bag limit for red snapper during the season, use of descending devices and venting tools — to prevent death on release — and possible changes to size limits, as well as limiting the number of hooks allowed.
Fillet knife in hand, Jarriel said Monday that he would welcome officials revisiting the issue because the numbers he sees certainly justifiy it.
“It’s definitely strong,” he said.