Just a couple of days after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the recreational season for 2020 red snapper, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council sent out a little good news themselves.
The management council is predicting that the 2020 season for red snapper for the for-hire federally permitted boats, which is the majority of Destin’s fishing fleet, will be extended seven to eight days longer this year.
Last year, the for-hire charter boats had a 61 day season, starting on June 1. The projected increase in days this year is due to the reduction in buffer, from 20 percent to 9 percent. Because the federal for-hire component didn’t exceed its annual catch target, the council determined that the buffer between the annual catch limit and the annual catch target could be reduced from 20 to 9 percent.
So with the possible increase, charter boats are looking at a 67 to 68 day season, that would take them through the first week of August.
“I think it’s good that we get that many days, that way the out of town non-boat-owning public can have more access,” said Capt. Trey Windes of the charter boat Outta Line. “And I think there will be plenty to go around.”
The bag limit on red snapper is two per angler and 16 inches to keep.
“I believe the snapper stock is stronger than ever and I also believe that snapper should open in May and go to November, with a two fish limit and 18 inches long,” said Capt. Bill Watson of the Sweet William III.
Watson said he’s already booked several trips for the upcoming snapper season.
“More snapper days means more happy customers,” said Capt. Allen Staples of the 100 Proof. “Everyone who calls about a trip, asks if snappers will be open.
“And there’s enough snappers in the northern Gulf to have a year-round season and never run short on fish,” he added.
Capt. Mike Graef of the Huntress is also excited about the possible extra days for red snapper.
“I’m extremely happy ... and yes I think there is enough to go around,” Graef said. “By day 30 we will just have to go a little further to fish for them. But I’m excited about having snappers, jacks and groupers for the first week in August, I hope.”
If nothing changes on the books, grouper will be open June 1 through Dec. 31 and amberjack May 1-31 and Aug. 1 through Oct. 31, which could make that first week in August exciting for the angler.
Capt. Mike Eller of the Lady Em said his June is about halfway booked-up right now.
“Red snapper is the Gulf’s biggest success story,” Eller said. “I feel like the stock is approaching or already at being fully recovered.”
Fishermen for the past seven or eight years have dealt with shorter snapper seasons in order to help the stock rebuild.
In 2014, the for-hire industry got their biggest blow with their season reduced to only nine days.
But since that all-time low, the number of days have increased. In 2015 the for-hire industry got 44 days, 46 in 2016, 49 in 2017, 51 in 2018 and then 61days in 2019.
Although the snapper days for the recreational angler are finalized for 2020, June 11 through July 25, the for-hire snapper days are not set in stone, but should be confirmed by the end of March.
With triggerfish opening March 1 and amberjack in May, plus a fall season, throw in 65-plus days for red snapper and things are looking up for the “luckiest fishing village in the world.”
"It looks like to me 2020 is going to be the best year ever,“ Eller said.