49 days

Red snapper season set, let the bookings begin

Tina Harbuck

Although they were hoping for more, the season has been set for the signature fish of the Emerald Coast.

Federally permitted for-hire boats will have 49 days to catch red snapper in federal waters starting June 1, while the private angler will have three days.

The 49 days in federal waters, which are from nine-nautical miles out to 200 miles, is a three-day increase from last year's 46.

“It’s a result of good stewardship on the charter for hire industry,” said Capt. Gary Jarvis of the charter boat Backdown 2 and president of the Destin Charter Boat Association. “We are highly monitored and easy to manage … plus we have a mandatory survey requirement. Managers have pretty good confidence in what we do on a daily basis."

In 2016, the charter for-hire boats under harvested their allocation of red snapper. 

“That’s why you saw the increase from 46 to 49. Personally, I was hoping for 51 or 52 days,” Jarvis said.

Like Jarvis, Capt. Mike Graef of the charter boat Huntress was hoping for more.

“Yes (the 49 days is) good, but I would have hoped for a few more. But thank goodness it’s not less,” Graef said.

Graef made mention of the fleet not overfishing last year, which he hoped would result in a 50- to 55-day season.

Either way, his June and the first couple of weeks of July are booked.

“Everything is full. I don’t have anything available,” Graef said.

During snapper season, Graef runs mostly two trips a day, like many other captains, with a six-hour minimum.

Capt. Kyle Lowe of the charter boat Special K is also glad for the extra days.

"Any increase is always good,” Lowe said. “We came in well under our quota last year … so hopefully that trend will continue.”

Lowe, like most of the Destin charter boat captains, has been getting calls about the season since the first of the year.

“People start calling about snapper season in February,” Lowe said, noting his calendar for June is about 75 percent booked. “I expect a great season from what I’ve seen with the mingo fishing. It seems really healthy and should be a good year.”

Capt. John Gibson of the party boat Gulf Breeze said the red snapper are there.

“We’ve been throwing back a lot of keepers,” Gibson said.

Red snapper, when in season, have to be 16 inches to keep and anglers can only keep two per person.

“From my perspective, a lot of the snapper we’ve been throwing back we’ll keep,” he said.

Gibson said when the federal season opens they may hit the places that hold snapper a little harder, but that will not be all they target.

“Sure we’ll be able to bring them to the docks, but you can only keep two per person,” he said. “So, I’m not going to take 30 something people out just for two fish each.”

Other fish they will target include vermillion snapper (mingo) and white snapper. The limit on mingo is 10 per angler.

Capt. Jim Green of the party boat New Florida Girl’s American Spirit said red snapper is the big draw in June.

“When it’s in season, that’s what the people come here for … so we adapt to that,” Green said. “Our phone rings from the beginning of the year asking when snapper season opens and how long it will be.”

But the wait is over.

“Now they can start booking, booking their travel, their hotel reservations and booking their fishing trips. Forty-nine days is great for our business,” Green said.

And the outlook for snagging a snapper is good.

“The overall average fish is not as big as they were two years ago,” Jarvis said.

“But the volume … there’s plenty of fish. So it’s going to be a good, prosperous 49 days for the Destin charter fleet, federally permitted fleet which is sorely needed,” he added, noting the spring has been a little off most charters.

• Red snapper season in federal waters, nine-nautical miles out to 200, for federally permitted vessels is June 1 to July 20 (12:01 a.m.)

• Red snapper season for private recreational anglers in federal waters is June 1 to June 4 (12:01 a.m.)

• Limit is two per person and must measure 16 inches to keep.

• Recreational red snapper season in state waters, from shore out to nine-nautical miles, opens Saturdays and Sundays in May, starting May 6. On May 27, the season will open daily through July 9. The season will also reopen for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, and on Labor Day for a total of 78 days.

• Boats holding a federal permit must abide by federal rules.