Captains sound off - Dates set for red snapper and grouper

Tina Harbuck

Although they were hoping for more, 46 is not bad.

Word came down Wednesday afternoon from NOAA Fisheries that charter for-hire boats fishing in federal waters will get 46 days starting June 1 to catch red snapper and private boat anglers will have nine days.

A few weeks ago, the National Marine Fisheries was predicting a private recreational season of six to nine days and a federal charter for-hire season of 38 to 56 days.

After the word came down Wednesday afternoon, it soon spread along the docks.

“I’m extremely happy,” said Capt. Robert Hill of the charter boat Twilight. “We went from nine days (three years ago) to 44 days last year and to 46 this year. … As long as we’re heading in the right direction,” it’s a good thing.

“It’s better than a stick in the eye,” said a pleased Capt. Mike Graef of the Huntress. “We were hoping for 50, but we’ll take 46.”

Capt. Jim Green of the party boat New Florida Girl’s American Spirit like most would like more days, but he’s satisfied with the outcome.

“The 46 days are good,” Green said. “We came in 17 percent below our catch target last year. So I think it’s good to keep us on the conservative side. We don’t want to overfish,” he said, noting they are developing a management plan for the charter for-hire boats.

“We don’t want to jeopardize that (by overfishing),” he said. “I’d like to see 50 like some, but 46 is good with me. It’s better than the nine two years ago.”

In addition to the good news about the extra days for red snapper, boat captains also received good news this week of additional days to catch gag grouper.

NOAA Fisheries is lengthening the gag grouper recreational season, which last year went from July 1 to Dec. 2, to June 1 to Dec. 31 with a size limit change from 22 inches to 24 inches.

“I’m very happy with the groupers,” Graef said. “I wish we could go back to the old days when they were opened in March, but it is what it is.

“It’s going to be a bonus, because we’re catching those snappers in deeper water and instead of throwing those grouper back and them maybe or maybe not making it back down, we’ll be able to keep them. It makes perfect sense.”

Green said the snapper and grouper inhabit the same type of structure and it’s not unusual to catch a grouper while snapper fishing.

“To be able to harvest them while snapper is open is a good thing … just because we’re not going to be throwing them back or put them through barometric trauma coming up from deep water,” Green said.

“You’re a criminal if you keep them at that point, at least now it’s better that we can keep them if there’s an incidental harvest of them.”

Hill has mixed feeling about the early opening of grouper.

“Personally I liked it better in July because we fish every day in June anyway. So it sort of saved our groupers for when snappers are closed,” he said.

However, he said with grouper now in the mix for June it may open doors for longer trips, like 10 to 12 hours.

“But the increased size limit is going to do better for the whole herd.”

Red Snapper numbers

• Charter for-hire: June 1-July 17 at 12:01 a.m.

• Private anglers: June 1-June 10 12:01 a.m.

• Size limit: 16-inches minimum to keep

• Two per person