The start day is sure. The closure date, not so sure.
Opening day for red snapper, the fish that Capt. Jim Westbrook says "built Northwest Florida" is June 1.
However, the closing date is a bit up in the air.
In recent weeks, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a 44-day season for red snapper in state waters, which extends nine nautical miles offshore, while the National Marine Fisheries Services looked to cut the snapper season in federal waters to less than a month.
Just Thursday afternoon, Pam Dana, who sits on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, received a voicemail from Roy Crabtree saying that after "running the numbers" fishermen would get 26 days to fish in federal waters. Crabtree is the Regional Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"That's better than 17," Dana said, which is what the council thought it might come to for the states who didn't go compliant with the federal season.
"It's not like I thought it would be," said Capt. Eric Thrasher of the charter boat Game On. "But it is what it is. We’re going to go fishing. We just can't keep 'em, which is just like now."
The 44-day state snapper season will start next Saturday and end July 14 in Florida waters. The federal season could close June 26. The differing state and federal seasons would hit charter boat captains especially hard because of Amendment 30B that says federally permitted vessels are prohibited from landing red snapper in state waters when the federal season is closed.
The Gulf Council passed an emergency rule that would rescind Amendment 30B, however, the feds said there wasn’t time to "implement an emergency action prior to June 1," and they didn't view it as an emergency, Dana said.
"It's an emergency in my book," said Capt. Jim Westbrook of the New Florida Girl and New Florida Girl's American Spirit.
"Forty-four days was a struggle last year," he said, adding it would cost him $50,000 out of just one bank account to miss the other almost 20 days of red snapper fishing.
"I don't care if I fish out every day; I can't do it," Westbrook said.
And on the party boats, red snapper is what folks want to catch, he said.
But even beyond the fish, "How can you get summer work, when you can only promise them about three weeks. Red snapper is what built Northwest Florida."
And the books bear that out.
Capt. Curt Gwin of the charter boat Only Way says he's already getting a few inquiries about red snapper dates.
"I'm getting a few on the books for snapper and grouper," Gwin said.
Capt. Thrasher said he hasn't had a lot of callers that ask "when is snapper season open?"
"Most ask, 'what can we catch?' "
"I think it's going to be a good season," Thrasher said. "And most trips are last minute anyhow. They wait until they get here to see what the weather’s going to be like.
"I think they are still going to go fishing (red snapper or not). They are right now," Thrasher said, noting he fished almost every day last week.