FWC proposes 70-day season in state waters for red snapper

More than 75 people attended Tuesday night’s Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission workshop to discuss red snapper.

A proposal of a 70-day red snapper season in state waters got a nod from local recreational fisherman Tuesday evening at  a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission public workshop held at the Destin Community Center.

More than 75 people crowded into one of the meeting rooms at the center to hear what was on the table and to offer their opinions as well about the upcoming red snapper season. This was just one of about a half dozen FWC workshops scheduled from Pensacola to Carrabelle this week to gather input on the recreational red snapper in state waters, which is from shore out to nine nautical miles.

“It’s very important that we hear from out stakeholders,” said FWC Commissioner Chuck Roberts.

“We want to have a good fishery and the only way to do that is to protect it,” he said.

He explained that over the last few years the red snapper fishery has improved.

“Destin has probably the best snapper fishing,” Roberts said, noting that anglers don’t have to go as far to get to the fishery.

“And we’re trying to give back as many days as we can,” he said.

Last year, the state season for red snapper was 52 days (May 24 – July 14), while the federal season was only nine days (June 1-9). Federal season is for federally-permitted for-hire vessels fishing in federal waters, which is from nine nautical miles and beyond. People fishing aboard the federally-permitted boats must follow the federal season, even in state waters.

In recent weeks, the Gulf Council has approved a quota increase for red snapper from 11 to 14.3 million pounds for 2015.

With the increase, the state is looking to add more days to the season in state waters. The preferred FWC state season would start the Saturday before Memorial Day, May 23, and go through July 12. Plus give anglers Saturdays and Sundays in September and October with harvest allowed on Nov. 1. Labor Day, the first Monday in September would also be in the 70 day count.

“The reason this option was chosen is it’s a way to increase fishing opportunities not just during the summer season but over some fall weekends,” said Martha Bademan, FWC Division of  Marine Fisheries Management Section Leader.

After the presentation from FWC, people in attendance were given three minutes each to give their thoughts on the proposal.

Most recreational fishermen were in favor of the 70-day season.

“I support the 70-day season. I want to get out there with my family and fish,” said John Garland a private boat owner and diver.

Local boat owner Adam Peeples supported the 70-day season. “There’s plenty of fish … and big fish too,” he said.

Rich Jones also spoke in favor of the 70 days as did about another half dozen fishermen.

However there were a few area charter boat captains, which fish aboard federally-permitted boats, who expressed concern that the proposed 70-day state season, could hurt how many days they will be allowed in federal waters or push them over the total allowed catch for the season.

“It’s hard for me to support something I can’t participate in,” said Capt. George Eller of the charterboat Checkmate II.

“It bothers me that it seems that the state doesn’t realize that the longer the seasons, as far as the private recreational people go, there’s not going to be any federal season,” Eller said.

“If that’s OK with you, then that’s your decision. But it harms us.”

“It just appears to me that you are throwing us under the bus, just to open up more days in a season. It makes me feel like the state just doesn’t care about the for-hire industry in this state which puts millions and millions of dollars into the state.

Eller suggested fish tags for red snapper where each boat would be issued so many fish tags for the reef fish.

“There would be no need to worry about days … just grab your tags and go get a snapper. That’s so simple it hurts,” he said.

Roberts assured Eller that the state was “not throwing you under the bus.”

He explained that the commission has a responsibility to look at the fishery as a whole.

“And the area we control, we try to do the best job we can,” Roberts said.

“The tags may be where we end up … but we have  to start somewhere.”

Capt. Jim Green of the American Spirit questioned why the FWC would open red snapper during the spawning season of the reef fish which is from May to September.

“Why with the fish we are tyring to rebuild, and the fish that has been overfished … why are you not taking a more proactive approach?” Green said.

Green was in favor of a tag system as well.

The final decision on the state season will be made in Tallahassee at the FWC meeting on April 14-16.

As for the days federally permitted boats will get this year, it has yet to be determined.