Comment from Gulf anglers sought on red snapper fishing season changes

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The 2013 red snapper season in federal waters off the Texas coast will run 17 days, beginning June 1.
Red snapper may be caught in Texas state waters all year, but 95 percent of the state's annual harvest is done in federal waters.

The federal fisheries agency that manages recreational red snapper fishing seasons in the Gulf of Mexico is seeking public input on a proposal to increase both the recreational and commercial quotes, and reopen the Gulf to a fall sport-fishing season.

The proposed rule from NOAA Fisheries published Wednesday in the Federal Register. It would raise the total harvest of red snapper in the Gulf from 8.46 million pounds to 11 million. The commercial quota would be 5.61 million pounds and the recreational quota would be 5.39 million. The quotas can be increased because a recent stock assessment for red snapper showed the stock can support higher catches, the agency has said.

The fall supplemental red snapper would open Oct. 1 and projections show it could run for 21 days. That rests on whether the overall catch exceeds the previous quota during the summer season in June.

The length of the federal recreational season in the Gulf is determined by the amount of the quota, the average weight of fish landed and estimated catch rates over time. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for ensuring the entire recreational harvest, including harvest in state waters, does not exceed the recreational quota. Therefore, if states establish a longer season or a larger bag limit for state waters than the federal regulations allow in federal waters, the federal season must be adjusted to account for the additional harvest expected in state waters.

More than 95 percent of the red snapper landed in Texas come from federal waters, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department figures. Most of that catch – about 80 percent – comes from head boats, also known as “party boats,” which take out numerous paying clients offshore. These boats account for roughly 200,000 angler fishing trips annually, according to TPWD figures.

In 2012 the snapper season in federal waters throughout the Gulf was 46 days. Because snapper stocks are doing well and growing in the Gulf, snapper fishing is allowed 365 days a year in Texas state waters and 88 days in Louisiana state waters.

The recreational red snapper bag limit in federal waters is two fish at least 16 inches in length. The bag limit in Texas waters is four fish, at least 15 inches long, with a year-round season.

The method for calculating the dates for the federal season for each state are available online.

The comment period will run from Wednesday through Aug. 29. Comments may be provided in numerous forms, including online. Visit the NOAA regulations docket page to provide comment.

Mailed comments also may be sent to Susan Gerhart, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Ave. South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

All comments received are a part of the public record and generally will be posted for public viewing on without change.

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