For Florida’s pleasure anglers who prize red snapper, the 2015 season for federal waters can be sized up in two words. One day. A chance also exists for no season. Expected to be hit hardest are fishers from Tarpon Springs to Naples, where opportunities for the Gulf's red snapper are the thinnest in the state.
The length of the season in federal waters is not expected to be locked down until April, according to a spokeswoman for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. The season also depends on sector separation, a controversial Council measure that divides recreational red snapper quotas roughly in half.
“Recreational red snapper will open June 1 [but the] National Marine Fisheries Service has not yet notified us of the proposed season length,” Council public information officer Charlene Ponce said Tuesday.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, however, is expecting a one-day federal season, according to several fisheries reports that will be discussed at meetings starting today in Jacksonville. In a report by the Division of Marine Fisheries Management, “sector separation is estimated to result in a 1-day season for private anglers and a 33-day season for the federally permitted for-hire industry.”
The Council’s sector separation plan was put in the hands of the U.S. Department of Commerce in December for a final ruling. Florida and most Gulf states oppose sector separation.
“Dr. Roy Crabtree [of the NMFS] informed the Council during its meeting last week that he would probably not have that information until around April,” Ponce said.
The FWC is studying five options for the state season, including keeping the current 53-day season in place. The others involve a mix of seasons, including three-day weekends, and range from 58 to 96 days. Red snapper fishing in the fall is a possibility. All options start Memorial Day weekend.
Red snapper in Southwest Florida mostly occupy deeper waters 20-30 or more miles offshore, well beyond the state's 9 nautical mile jurisdiction. The Panhandle area accounts for most of the catch in state waters, the FWC said.
A longer state season for red snapper "would not benefit anglers fishing off central and southwest Florida ... because red snapper are often caught in state waters off the Panhandle, but very rarely caught in state waters off central and southwest Florida," the FWC said.
Since 1996, the federal recreational season for red snapper has progressively shortened — down to nine days last June.
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