Alabama Braces For Shortest Red Snapper Season Ever

Many anglers say there are more and larger red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico now than there have been in decades, but charge inaccurate federal population estimates are unfairly causing ever shorter seasons. (Photo by David Rainer, ADCNR)
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The following article was written by David Rainer of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Anglers and charter boat captains report there are more red snapper than they've seen in a long time, or ever. Yet, because of the stipulations in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 2013 red snapper season in Alabama will be June 1 through June 28, the shortest ever. At least that's where it stands right now.

The reason Alabama is singled out is because the seasons are even more uncertain at this point for the other states. Unless a court intervenes, Louisiana will have a nine-day season in federal waters, while Florida's federal season is set at 21 days and Texas' at 12 days. Like Alabama, Mississippi's federal season is 28 days.

The reason for the discrepancies is compliance with federal regulations in state waters. Louisiana opened a weekend-only season in state waters with a bag limit of three fish. Texas doesn't close state waters to red snapper fishing, and Florida will have a 44-day season in state waters. State waters extend 9 miles in Florida and Texas and 3 miles in the other three states.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed a recommendation for an emergency rule at its February meeting to allow the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to adjust the federal seasons of those states not in compliance. That rule has been published in the Federal Register and has been enacted. At its April meeting, the Gulf Council voted to rescind that emergency rule on an 8-7 vote, but Dr. Roy Crabtree, the NMFS Southeast Regional Director, announced Tuesday that the request to rescind the emergency rule has been denied.

"There is a lot going on, on a lot of different fronts," said Alabama Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship, who said the rumor Alabama would go non-compliant with federal regulations, is false.
"With us having only 3 miles of state waters, there are not enough fish for us to go non-compliant," Blankenship said. "Then you would have a situation where people might go into federal waters and come back into state waters during the time the federal season was closed. I don't think it would be fair to our citizens that you're putting them in a situation where they might be tempted to break the law. Where it matters for people in Alabama is that if there is an injunction and NMFS can't close the waters off those states in non-compliance, it has the potential to reduce the number of days of red snapper season off of Alabama from 28 days to 22 days."

One bit of good news recently was the announcement that red snapper had been taken out of the "overfishing" category.

"That really doesn't really change anything as far as management goes, at least not initially," Blankenship said. "There are two definitions here - overfished and overfishing. Taking red snapper out of the overfishing category means we are no longer taking out more snapper than are reproducing. We've all been saying that for a while, that there are more snapper out there, that with these very stringent seasons we're not catching what we could or should be able to catch.”

So, what is a red snapper angler who plans to fish off of Alabama to do?

"Right now I'd plan to fish June 1 through June 28," he said. "That's what the season is set for at the current time. Being less than a month away, that's what we're planning for in Alabama. The only way I think that would really change is if a judge in one of the lawsuits grants an injunction or makes a ruling on that."

To find out more about the Red Snapper Season in Alabama and in surrounding states, view Rainer’s full article here;