snapper2 (copy) (copy) (copy)

A red snapper sits on top of a pile of smaller vermilion snapper. File

The catch is on again. The tasty red snapper can be tossed in the cooler instead of back in the deep.

After signs of recovery for the popular bottom species offshore, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division has approved an annual limited harvest season.

Recreational anglers can keep the catch between Aug. 10 and 12, and from Aug. 17 to 19 this year.

They will be able to keep one fish per person per day with no minimum size limit throughout the Southeast coastal states.

Commercial anglers can fish for it from Thursday through Dec. 31, unless federal regulators close the season early because of how many are caught. The limit is 75 pounds gutted per trip.

There are thousands more recreational anglers than commercial boats offshore South Carolina.

Snapper is one of the most sought-after catches by seafood customers and anglers, but the catch regularly has been shut down since 2014 as fisheries managers worked to rebuild stock. Bottom anglers who inadvertently caught the fish had to toss it back.

Because of sea pressure differences, a lot of them died despite techniques to revive the fish being implemented.

The annual season follows a series of one-time openings as managers assessed the stock. Research data from commercial anglers suggests the species has turned the corner to recovery.

"It’s obvious that red snapper in the South Atlantic are rebuilding. We’ll see how things look in a more quantitative sense overall after the next stock assessment," said Mel Bell, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources fisheries management director.

Bell sits on the federal council that recommends fishery management moves to NOAA.

Even a few weekends are better than nothing, recreational anglers say.

"The heartbreak of it really is that we catch so many of them. We have to resuscitate them and release them back in the sea," said John Madden of Wahoo Fishing Charters in Charleston. "When a customer pulls one up, it's a big, beautiful fish. They go, 'Oh wow, a red snapper!' You tell them, yeah, and you have to put it back."

Next year, the season will open in July, NOAA said.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.