WINTER COLUMN: A snappy snapper comeback?
The medicine sure didn't taste good going down, but it's starting to look like a few years worth of redemptive regulations and closed seasons are restoring good health to the local snapper-grouper fishery.
Though folks in the environmental and conservation sectors would rightly point out the work left to be done on many fish stocks, there are signs that heading into 2013, things are looking up.
The quick-changing world of fisheries management wound down this year with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council hearing good news about vermilion snapper and setting the stage for a continued, albeit limited, red snapper fishery next year.
The council, which sets regulations for fishing offshore of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida, met earlier this month in Wilmington, N.C.
“There was good news concerning vermilion snapper,” SAFMC member Tom Swatzel told The Post and Courier after the meeting. “The recent stock assessment update determined that vermilion are not overfished or experiencing overfishing.
“As a result, the council is taking action through a regulatory amendment, expected to be implemented next summer, which would increase the total vermilion annual catch limit (ACL) by about 240,000 pounds, or 25 percent. The ACL increase could result in removing the recreational season closure for vermilion and/or increasing the bag limit.”
As currently managed, the recreational fishery for vermilion closes Nov. 1 and reopens April 1, and anglers are allowed 5 per person per day with a minimum total length of 12 inches.
The SAFMC also appears ready to continue limited commercial and recreational fishing for red snapper. After years of closed fishery, regulators allowed limited catches of red snapper in 2012 during short recreational and commercial seasons.
This month, the council approved an amendment that specifies a commercial season beginning on the second Monday in July, with the length to be determined by the annual catch limit. The recreational season would begin on the second Friday in July and consist of consecutive weekends only (Friday, Saturday and Sunday).
NOAA Fisheries will complete an analysis each year estimating the length of the recreational red snapper fishing season and then announce the recreational limits and opening of the season.
The end of the recreational season will be set and announced before the start of the recreational season, the SAFMC said in a press release.
The recreational season will not open if the projected season length is three days or less.
The council's amendment establishes a commercial trip limit of 75 pounds (gutted weight), eliminates the minimum size limit for both commercial and recreational sectors, and sets a bag limit of one red snapper per person per day in the recreational fishery.
Council members also backed a plan to remove a controversial “trigger” provision that has been cutting short the commercial fleet's shallow-water grouper fishery.
An earlier measure required the commercial fleet to stop fishing for all types of grouper — gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, red hind, rock hind, yellowmouth grouper, yellowfin grouper, graysby, and coney — once the commercial catch limit for gag was met.
This measure, which was originally implemented to help reduce bycatch of gag, triggered a commercial-sector closure for shallow-water grouper on Oct. 20. That closure, coupled with a four-month spawning season closure from January through April, effectively closes the commercial fishery until May 2013.
The council's actions on the gag trigger shouldn't affect recreational anglers, who still must abide by the spawning season closure, which starts Jan. 1 and runs through April.
So if you're hoping to take advantage of the increasing number of grouper out there, you'd better squeeze in a trip before the new year.
Reach Matt Winter, Tideline magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or firstname.lastname@example.org