Federal for-hire boats to get longest red snapper season in more than 10 years

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Red snapper days for federal for-hire boats have been set, and it didn’t take long for word to spread along the fishing docks in Destin Monday that starting June 1 local captains will have 79 days to reel in that signature fish of the Emerald Coast. 

Not long after the announcement came down in a Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, posts started popping up on Facebook to let visitors know when red snapper will be available to catch. 

According to the bulletin, “The 2022 red snapper fishing season for vessels with federal for-hire reef fish permits is 79 days in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf).” 

Red snapper was splashed across the racks of the charter boats in Destin on opening day, June 1, 2021 for federally permitted boats.

The season for federally permitted for-hire vessels, which is the majority of the Destin charter boat fleet, will begin at 12:01 a.m. on June 1 and close at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 19. 

From 2021:New red snapper take over on leader board of 3rd annual Boathouse Summer Slam

More from 2021:Area captains say red snapper season has been good for business and bites

"We're very excited about a long red snapper season,” said Capt. Justin Brantly of the Phoenix. “It’s very nice to see everyone’s efforts on sector separation are continuing to help maintain our fishery and make it better year after year.”

The recreational season for red snapper was announced last week by Gov. Ron DeSantis on a visit to Destin. 

The recreational season for those fishing in state waters, which is from shore out nine nautical miles, begins June 17 and runs to July 31. They will also have a 12-day fall season, which will allow snapper fishing on Oct. 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23. Snapper fishing will also be legal over Veteran’s Day weekend, Nov. 11-13 and Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 25-27. 

All in all, the recreational boats, or those without a federal permit, will have 57 days total to fish for red snapper, which is the longest since the state started managing the fishery. 

“The 57 days was a big increase for the recreational boats,” said Capt. Jim Westbrook of the New Florida Girl’s American Spirit, a 92-foot party boat. 

Westbrook was pleased with the extension of days for the federal boats as well. 

Anglers fishing aboard federally permitted for-hire boats will have 79 days to catch red snapper this year.

“I just got the memo … it’s on the side of improvement,” Westbrook said, noting he would like to see the fishery open year-round. 

“Seventy-nine is a solid improvement … it’s better than the 63 we had last year. And if we get a good weather pattern we’ll be on the plus side,” he said, noting they’ve had a windy spring. 

“It’s the best in 10 or more years,” Westbrook added. 

June 2021:Fish Flash: Red snapper apparently do come in XL

June 2021:Twilight tops the board in pounds in the Boathouse Summer Slam

In 2014, the charter boats had their shortest red snapper season ever, nine days. But after that low, the number of days to land a red snapper has increased in federal waters. In 2015, the federally-permitted boats got 44 days; 2016, 46 days; 2017, 49 days; 2018, 51 days; 2019, 61 days; 2020, 62 days and then 63 days in 2021. 

With the extra days, the Destin charter boat captains are already starting to fill up their calendars. 

“Our summer bookings are looking very healthy, we don’t have every single day booked yet, but we’re filling slots every day and fully expecting a banner season,” Brantly said. 

Capt. Kyle Lowe on Special K says his calendar is filling up quickly. 

“We were already booked about 90% of June even before the announcement. I’d say better than 60% full in July. My hopes are that this announcement will boost reservations into August as well,” Lowe said. 

Lowe expressed concern on the amberjack fishery, which opens May 1. 

“I feel amberjack are obviously strained and maybe the longer red snapper season will take some of the pressure off jacks as well. The red snapper population appears extremely strong in our area,” Lowe said. 

Deckhand aboard the Un Reel cleans up a catch of red snapper on opening day, June 1, 2021, for federally permitted boats.

Capt. Tony Davis of the Anastasia says most of his June has been booked and half of July is already filled. 

Capt. Brady Bowman of the Bow’d Up said he’d like to see a split season. 

“Last year was great when we had 15 days in October. But having some extra days will definitely help any time of year,” Bowman said. 

Bowman said his June is already booked and three-fourths of July as well. 

“Hope we have some decent weather to work in this season,” Bowman said. 

Capt. Robert Hill, who has won the Destin Fishing Rodeo Captain of the Year Award for four years running was practically booked up on the Twilight even before the announcement. 

“One bright spot at least. We have eight days left available in the 79-day season,” Hill said. “With fuel costs ridiculously high, the profit margin is smaller than ever. So, we just have to fish more days to keep status quo. The extended season will help.”

Troy Cox of New Orleans shows off a 20-plus pound red snapper he caught last year aboard the Sea Fix with Capt. Chip Godwin and Capt. Aaron Smith. Red snapper opens for federally permitted boats on June 1 and goes for 79 days.

Capt. Tyler Breilmayer of the charter boat Nothin Matters said his calendar is almost full as well. 

“We are already booked for the month of June and only have three openings for July. August is starting to fill up as well,” Breilmayer said. 

“However, with the new extension of snapper season we will fill up quick. After this year, I think we will get a better idea of how plentiful the fishery really is,” he said. 

How the season length was determined 

According to news bulletin from NOAA 

  • The season is set based on the annual catch target. 
  • The annual catch target is the same this year as it was last year. 
  • In setting the season, daily catch rates are assumed to be the same as in recent years. 
  • Because the daily catch rate was lower from 2019-2021 than it had been in the recent past, the season length will increase to 79 days this year.