NOAA Fisheries and the Five Gulf Coast States Align Red Snapper Fishing Seasons

Officials with the U.S. Department of Commerce announced in June that an agreement was made between NOAA Fisheries and the five Gulf Coast states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) to align the federal and state private angler red snapper fishing seasons and extend the federal season from three days to 42.

Under the agreement, recreational anglers will be allowed to fish every weekend this summer starting on Fridays, and will include the July 4 and Labor Day holidays. In exchange, both Florida and Alabama will forego a fall season, while Louisiana and Mississippi will base their fall seasons on the amount of fish caught in the summer. Texas, which accounts for 1 percent of the recreational catch, will retain its fall season. The agreement marks the first time in years that the Gulf states and the federal government worked together to set one red snapper fishing season.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manages red snapper in Gulf federal waters from the west coast of Florida to Texas. The Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (RF-40) established separate annual catch limits (ACLs) and annual catch targets (ACTs) for federal for hire and private angling components of the fishery. In previous years, the Gulf red snapper recreational quota has been exceeded for a variety of reasons, including challenges with predicting angler behavior and catch rates, inconsistent state regulations, and increasing fish sizes associated with a rebuilding stock.

The Gulf of Mexico stock of red snapper is overfished and NOAA stated that this approach may delay the rebuilding of the stock by as many as 6 years. In 2005 the Council enacted a plan that was designed to rebuild the stock by 2032. The Secretary of Commerce has determined that a more modest rebuilding pace is an acceptable risk since the current management regime has undermined the federal-state partnership on red snapper management and threatens to undermine federal fisheries management in the Gulf and elsewhere.

Since implementing the rebuilding plan, red snapper are larger and more abundant and are also expanding their range to areas of Florida where they have not been prevalent for some time. As the stock has grown, anglers are catching more and larger fish, but the Federal recreational season has shrunk considerably over time. States have responded by setting seasons in state waters for the private angling component that are far longer than the federal season, greatly complicating fishery management and further reducing the available days in federal waters.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D.-Ariz.), top Democrat in the House Natural Resources Committee, has been an outspoken critic of the combined fishing season, stating that this deal may have negative impacts on the red snapper fishery. Grijalva pointed to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and demanded a scientific justification for the combined seasons.