If you want a change in red snapper annual catch limits, if you’re itching for extended seasons or changing bag or trip limits, you’re out of luck. But some smaller changes could be coming as the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council examines red snapper regulations for the coming year.
Major changes, like significant changes to the season or catch limits, won’t be possible until the conclusion of the next stock assessment, which isn’t scheduled to start until 2021. Currently, however there are four actions proposed. Myra Brouwer, a fisheries scientist with the SAFMC, is leading webinars on the actions this week, at the end of which people can ask questions. There are webinars scheduled for this evening and Thursday evening.
“The first (action) would remove that minimum number of days for both (recreational and commercial) seasons, for each of those seasons to open,” Brouwer said during Monday’s webinar. “The second action would modify the start day for the recreational season. Action 3 would revise the days of the week that recreational harvest is allowed during an open season, and Action 4 would modify the start date for the commercial season.”
The choices for Action 1 are to stay with the status quo or remove it altogether. Currently, if the National Marine Fisheries Service determines the fishing season, for whatever reason, would need to be three days or fewer, then the season doesn’t open for that year.
Eliminating that provision would allow for the possibility of open but shorter seasons. According to the SAFMC presentation, there would be no real biological effects to removing the minimum-day requirement, and there are possible positive economic effects, but it notes possible social negative effects of putting vessels in direct competition and intensifying derby fishing.
The decision on Action 2 is a little more complicated. Currently, the recreational season is only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning the second Friday in July, unless specified differently. The choices are to remain with that, or move around the dates to different months.
Brouwer said she anticipates some tweaking of the language at the September SAFMC meeting.
Of course, the first option is no action. The following three alternatives each contain four sub-alternatives to allow for which week to start the season within that month. Alternative 2 is May, Alternative 3 is June and Alternative 4 is September.
“Alternative 5 is an option to start on May 1, so that would line it up with when shallow-water grouper open up,” Brouwer said. “And what the council wants to consider is whatever amount of, whatever number of days are allowed, potentially distribute them starting May 1, and then if there’s anything left (within the annual catch limit), resume harvest in the fall….
“So, there’s going to be a little more work that needs to be done in September to flesh out this last alternative. For example, what portion of the allowable days would be used in May, and when would fishermen be notified if there’s any harvest allowed in the fall, and when would that fall season start?”
For Action 2, there’s little biological or economic effect difference in the options. As far as social effects, it’s anticipated early dates may reduce inclement weather problems. For Alternative 5, it’s suggested that if a spring harvest that exhausts the annual catch limit could mean some areas have disproportionate access to red snapper.
Action 3, revising the days of the week red snapper would be allowed for recreational harvest in an open season, is a buffet of options. Of these, the council could just multiple preferred options.
Alternatives 2 through 5 include consecutive Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. Alternative 6 provides for every other weekend, with three varying definitions of weekend. Alternative 7 would make it the last weekend of each month, again with three different definitions of weekend.
“Alternative 8, which provides the most flexibility — this is when the council would get notified at their annual meeting in March of how many days would be allowed for recreational harvest of red snapper,” Brouwer said. “And then the council, at that time, would provide their recommendations to the the National Marine Fisheries Service on what dates they want open, and how that season would be structured.”
The end of the season would still be predetermined and announced before the season’s start, and the council has the option of making the days nonconsecutive. Again, there would be little biological or economic difference across the options. Saturdays and Sundays are seen as most socially beneficial, and spreading out the days seen as providing a better chance of not running into inclement weather.
Action 4 changes the start date of the red snapper commercial season — the choices are no change, the second Monday in May, the second Monday in June, or starting May 1 with no harvest in July and August.
Like the other actions, there’s not much expected biological or economic effect difference among the options. Alternative 2 would allow for the longest season, and Alternative 4 would provide for a possible split season.
The Monday webinar featured a comment that noted the snapper season this year also fell during the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament. Since the tournament schedule was known well in advance of the snapper season, it was hoped this sort of conflict gets avoided next time.
The webinars start at 6 p.m. and last roughly 30 minutes, depending on the number of questions. Those wishing to sign up for this evening’s webinar can go to https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8345314545749147661, and those who want to sign up for Thursday’s can go to https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3873040004654005773.
If you’d like to simply watch the presentation and make a public comment later, the video will be uploaded with this story on The News’ website and at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGfcPuxfBZA.
Public comments must be received by 5 p.m. Friday, and can be made online at https://is.gd/amendment33, faxed to 843-769-4520, or mailed to Gregg Waugh, Executive Director, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Dr., Suite 201, N. Charleston, S.C., 29405.