Bob Watts said he and his Charleston fishing buddies have gotten used to the limited window in which they can keep red snappers they hook on offshore fishing trips.
But like a lot of anglers, Watts would like to see changes made that factor in the weather, which can make it almost impossible to target the tasty fish. This year Watts, who fishes with Capt. Jimmy Johnson and Marlene Augustine, managed to fish on just two of the five allotted dates.
"We throw back a lot of red snapper," Watts said. "One day (before the season was open) all we caught were red snappers. We threw 15 of them back, all of them big."
Watts said they've gotten into the habit of releasing the red snapper.
"It used to be we wanted to cry about it, but now we just release them. We're just used to it now. We've learned how to (vent the fish) and we do what we can to save them and throw them back."
Snappers, along with groupers, often suffer from barotrauma, which is a buildup of swim bladder gases that occurs when the fish are brought up quickly from deep water. The condition can cause the stomach to pop out of the fish's mouth, and unless a process known as venting takes place the fish cannot get back down from the surface of the water.
Relief for anglers like Watts and his friends may be on the way.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is soliciting public input on proposed changes and will hold a series of public hearings, via webinar, from Aug. 12-15.
The proposed changes include:
1. Removing the minimum number of days for the South Atlantic red snapper seasons.
2. Modifying the start date for the recreational red snapper season.
3. Revising the days of the week recreational harvest of red snapper would be allowed during an open season.
4. Modifying the start date of the commercial season.
The changes are proposed in Regulatory Amendment 33 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. Note that the proposed changes would not extend recreational or commercial seasons, increase the annual catch limits for red snapper, or change the recreational bag limit or commercial trip limit.
The webinars, which begin at 6 p.m., are conducted through listening stations at various locations, two of which are located in South Carolina:
• Aug. 12, Murrells Inlet Community Center, 4462 Murrells Inlet Road, Murrells Inlet.
• Aug. 13, Haddrell's Point Fin to Feather, 887 Ben Sawyer Blvd., Mount Pleasant.
Participants must register in advance.
Staff from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will be present at each listening station and will provide an overview of the actions and alternatives included in the amendment. Formal public comment will be accepted during the hearings. Written comments also will be accepted.
The news release announcing the webinars stated:
"The commercial red snapper season begins each year on the second Monday in July and the recreational season begins on the second Friday in July. The Council is considering alternatives to modify the days of the week that are open to red snapper recreational harvest, should harvest be allowed, to help maximize opportunity in the event of bad weather. In addition, fishermen have expressed concern that harvest is being allowed during summer months while red snapper are spawning. Modifying the start date for the commercial season is being considered to maintain fairness and equitability between the sectors."