Red snapper pilot program in the works

Tina Harbuck
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has proposed a fishery-management pilot program that would allow the FWC to manage all recreational red snapper harvest caught in Gulf state and federal waters off Florida in 2018 and 2019. [FILE PHOTO]

There is no fish along the Gulf Coast more talked about than the red snapper.

Last week at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting near Tallahassee, the red snapper was once again on the table for discussion.

The FWC looked at the future of Gulf red snapper management in state and federal waters, including a proposed fishery-management pilot program (also referred to as an Exempted Fishing Permit) that would allow the FWC to manage all recreational red snapper harvest caught in Gulf state and federal waters off Florida in 2018 and 2019.

The pilot program is pending approval by NOAA Fisheries and would set the harvest season for recreational anglers fishing from private vessels in state and federal waters of the Gulf, and would also include for-hire operations that do not have a federal reef fish permit and are limited to targeting reef fish in Gulf state waters only.

What impact does this have on the “for-hire” boats in Destin, such as the charter fleet, which the majority of holds a federal reef permit?

“Absolutely none,” said Destin Charter Boat Association President Gary Jarvis, who was in attendance at the meeting.

“It will be up to the states to maintain the harvest rates and to keep the private angling sector within their annual allocation,” he said.

The charter boats, holding a federal permit that allows them to fish nine nautical miles out and beyond, are managed by Amendment 40 (Sector Separation) in the federal fisheries management.

“So this Exempted Fishing Permit to explore state management will not affect us one bit and we support as an industry the Exempted Fishing Permit and hope it provides more access and more data for the private recreational angler,” Jarvis said.

At the meeting, the FWC discussed a potential 24-day season in Gulf state and federal waters as a jumping off point for a 2018 season proposal. This season length has potential to change.

“This is a challenging issue, but also an unprecedented opportunity,” said FWC Chairman Bo Rivard. “At the end of the day, all people want to know is how many days they will get to go fishing. We aren’t clear on the answers right now, but I hope that more robust data will allow us to negotiate for more days in the season.”

The FWC has submitted their Exempted Fishing Permit proposal to NOAA Fisheries and is awaiting final approval. This Exempted Fishing Permit would not apply to commercial fishermen or for-hire operations with a valid federal reef fish permit.

Jarvis said the only opposition to the permit is coming from a couple of states, Texas and Louisiana. He said these states are trying to force their federally permitted charter fleet to participate in the Exempted Fishing Permit program.

“Fortunately we live in Florida with a commission that provides an open public transparent process that allowed our industry to share our concerns and work with the commission to better the fishing management of our industry,” Jarvis said.

This Exempted Fishing Permit opportunity and 2018 recreational season dates should be finalized sometime in April and discussed at the April Commission meeting.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contributed to this article.