NOAA Fisheries has announced a final rule for Gulf of Mexico red snapper, which sets quotas for commercial and recreational harvest.
The red snapper quota will increase from 8.08 million pounds to 8.46 million pounds whole weight for 2013 seasons, with recreational anglers getting 4.145 million pounds, 49 percent of the total.
The Gulf’s federal recreational red snapper season begins June 1 with a two-fish bag limit. During development of the final rule, NOAA Fisheries recalculated the projected red snapper recreational season lengths off each Gulf state using updated recreational landings data, as well as new information from Louisiana and Texas.
2013 red snapper season lengths
Mississippi and Alabama: In federal and state waters off Mississippi and Alabama due to consistent regulations, the season will be 34 days and close on July 5 at 12:01 a.m., local time.
Texas: In federal waters off Texas due to inconsistent regulations, the season will be 17 days, and close June 18 at 12:01 a.m., local time. Texas state waters are open all year for recreational red snapper fishing with a four-fish bag limit.
Louisiana: In federal waters off Louisiana due to inconsistent regulations, the season will be 24 days and close June 25 at 12:01 a.m., local time. Louisiana state waters are open weekends only (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), March 23 through Sept. 30, with a three-fish bag limit.
Florida: In federal waters off Florida due to inconsistent regulations, the season will be 26 days and close June 27 at 12:01 a.m., local time. Florida state waters are open June 1 through July 14 with a two-fish bag limit.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will review the red snapper population assessment during its June meeting in Pensacola, Fla. The council may request an emergency rule to increase the quota again based on new scientific information and request that NOAA Fisheries reopen the recreational season for red snapper later in the year.
Texas, Louisiana and other Gulf states previously pushed back against proposed federal rules on red snapper, urging that snapper regulation be left up to the discretion of states, citing scientific research supporting the stance.
Gov. Rick Perry and other Gulf state governors also sent a letter to Congressional leaders in April, stating that federal management of Gulf red snapper is evidence of a system that is “irretrievably broken,” and called for passage of legislation that would replace it with a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management.
In Texas, federal waters begin nine nautical miles from the coast and extend 200 nautical miles.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates that an originally projected 27-day red snapper season would generate at least $28 million from recreational anglers in Texas, while a lowered 12-day season would cut that figure by at least $16 million.
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 TPWD 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.