A week after a ruling striking down an emergency rule that gave NOAA Fisheries the authority to adjust red snapper seasons off each Gulf state based on whether their state-water seasons and bag limits were consistent with federal regulations, we now have an answer on this year’s framework: a 28-day season, running through June 28.
A U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, set aside the emergency rule May 31, which means the federal recreational red snapper season must be the same in federal waters off all five Gulf states. Considering the catches expected later in the year during the extended state-water seasons off Texas, Louisiana and Florida, NOAA Fisheries projected the 28-day Gulfwide federal red snapper season.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service reminds all federally permitted for-hire vessels that they must abide by stricter federal regulations, and after the federal water closure, they will not be allowed to harvest and retain recreationally caught red snapper in open state waters.
NMFS indicated it will publish a temporary rule in the federal register June 10 to establish a Gulfwide season closure at 12:01 a.m. June 29. This sets the end date for the red snapper season that started June 1.
On Feb. 8, over the strong objections of state agency representatives from Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to implement an emergency rule that could shorten the recreational red snapper fishing season in federal waters off the Texas, Louisiana and Florida coasts, while extending seasons in federal waters off Alabama and Mississippi.
On April 18, the council voted 8-7 to overturn the emergency rule, in effect reversing the Feb. 8 vote. However, NMFS declined to rescind the original emergency rule as requested by the April 18 vote.
As published in the federal register March 25, the emergency rule would empower the NMFS southeast regional administrator to reduce the red snapper season in federal waters off Texas, Louisiana and Florida since those states set seasons in state waters that were different than seasons in federal waters. In Texas, federal waters begin nine nautical miles from the state’s coast and extend 200 nautical miles.
The Texas and Louisiana agencies have maintained that while a proposed shortened season will have no apparent conservation benefit, it would have an economic impact. TPWD estimates that the originally projected 27-day season would generate at least $28 million from recreational fishermen in Texas, while a 12-day season would cut that figure by at least $16 million in lost retail sales in Texas. For Louisiana, reducing a 45-day season to a nine-day season could result in an estimated decline in economic value of approximately $8 million to recreational anglers in that state.
Prior to the enactment of the emergency rule, NMFS had estimated that if all Gulf states were treated equally, the season would have been approximately 22 days.
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.