After years of butting heads with federal regulators, Gulf States could be in charge of setting their own quotas and dates for recreational red snapper fishing by the summer of 2020.
Earlier this week, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) voted to delegate the management authority for the private angling component of recreational snapper fishing to each Gulf State, starting next summer.
States having control over the limits, quotas and dates that govern snapper fishing is something that seemed like a pipe dream to fishermen only a few years ago. At the time, Alabama was seeing snapper seasons as short as three days, but state officials had no control over them.
However, that changed in 2018 with the creation of an Exempted Fishing Permit program championed by Gulf Coast lawmakers from several states. As part of the two-year pilot program, states were allowed to obtain an EFP by submitting their own snapper management plans.
Alabama participated in the EFP program in 2018 and will continue to do so through the 2019 snapper season. In 2020, the state will be able to continue managing its own portion of a Gulf-wide quota and have the authority to set bag limits as well as minimum and maximum size limits on fish caught off the coast.
Under the breakdown approved by the GMFMC this week, Alabama would receive 26 percent of the total recreational red snapper quota, second only to Florida’s 44 percent. The quota will be allocated as follows: Alabama, 26.29 percent; Florida, 44.82 percent; Louisiana, 19.12 percent; Mississippi, 3.55 percent; and Texas, 6.21 percent.
The change will also allow states to close areas of federal waters adjacent to the state with the prior approval of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
Last Thursday, Alabama Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon said he was pleased with the council’s decision and excited about the opportunity to manage the private angler red snapper season at the state level.
“The exempted fishing permits the states have used for the 2018 and 2019 seasons have shown that the states can be responsive to the desires of the anglers and manage the fishery in a responsible manner,” Bannon said. “The process to develop a fair and equitable amendment has been a very challenging one, and I am very pleased with the efforts of all five Gulf States’ fisheries directors and the Gulf Council. This is good for the private anglers and the fish stock.”
This year, state waters will be open for snapper fishing only on weekends — 12:01 a.m. Friday through 11:59 p.m. Sunday — from June 1 through July 28, which includes July 4.
In Alabama, the size limit will be 16 inches total length and the bag/possession limit will be two per person per day.
Those dates, however, apply only to private anglers and state-licensed Alabama commercial party boats that do not hold federal for-hire fishing permits. Those charter boats will still be under federal management from NMFS. This year’s federal for-hire season runs June 1 through Aug. 2.
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