State officials are still trying to decide on recreational red snapper fishing dates.

By John Mullen

February 14, 2020 – Orange Beach, AL – (OBA®) – For two years, NOAA let the states have a hand in managing the recreational red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico. With that experience under their collective belts, NOAA recently announced it is officially handing off management of the season to five Gulf states including Alabama.

“Under an exempted fishing permit (EFP), the five Gulf Coast states managed the private recreational red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico for the 2018 and 2019 fishing seasons and saw remarkable success,” a release from the Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama states. “The EFP was the result of a multi-year effort to give the states control after the status quo federal management approach reduced the Gulf red snapper season to an astounding three days for private anglers in federal waters.”

Blakeley Ellis, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama.Charter or for-hire fishing boats will stay under the federal purview and their boats will have the ability to fish any day of the week during their set season. Recreational fishermen will be given several weekends and a few special days or long weekends during their fishing season much like the previous two seasons.

Blakeley Ellis, the executive director of CCA, said the states were given a test run to see how well they could do and passed with flying colors.

“Basically, the pilot program that lasted for two years and it was a win in and of itself,” Ellis said. “We were allowed to that and Senator (Richard) Shelby played a big part in helping get that pilot program set up. That was kind of the proving ground that states were capable of managing it responsibly and that the result would be a better fishing season for each state that could cater to what most anglers preferred. And, that the states could work together.”

NOAA still sets the pounds recreational anglers can harvest but the states have to sit down and decide how that is to be divided among them. About 4.6 million pounds are allotted and Alabama anglers will be able to catch a little more than a quarter of that total.

“NOAA will set the amount of fish but the percentage state by state will remain the same,” Ellis said. “The states will continue to be able to work within the amounts they are getting. If the states wanted to use all of their amount in a week they could or they could spread it out week by week or day by day.”

Scott Bannon, the Director of Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is pleased with the amount allotted to Alabama.

“Alabama’s is 26.2 percent,” Bannon said. “For a state with three percent of the coastline I felt that was a pretty good take in the end.” That amounts to about 1.2 million pounds.

One of the main reasons NOAA was ready to make this step, at least in Alabama, was the Snapper Check program where anglers use an app to report their catch. Other states have developed their own systems for keeping up with the catch.

“The other big part is each state was able to have their own recording system to accurately record the amount of fish caught instead of having these huge buffers in place to counterbalance us potentially overfishing it,” Ellis said. “They are able to do the calculations based off of how many fish the app is showing that we’re catching. That correlates with X amount of days. They start off with an estimated number of days based on this many pounds we should be able to fish 20 days. But if we do weekends only it may only be 14 days because we’re going to catch more on weekends than we would a weekday. It’s a little bit tricky but they try to do what will work best for most people.”

The states also have more flexibility to add days to make up for weekends of rough weather or even add some days to the season if the harvest amount is not reached when the stated season ends.

“We now have the opportunity to set the seasons anytime during the year,” Bannon said. “We have the ability to adjust the bag limit, the size limit and we can set area closures. We can close (to recreational anglers) the federal waters off the coast of Alabama out to a certain distance.”

Bannon said he’s still working with other officials to decide what this year’s recreational schedule will look like.

“I’m in final discussions with commissioner (Chris) Blankenship,” Bannon said. “We have submitted some proposals and we should have a final announcement by the Conservation Advisory Board which is the end of this month and we’ll make an announcement. It’s going to be very similar to last year. It’s going to be some form of long weekend beginning somewhere around the June 1 time period.”

Part of that might also include a weekday to give local anglers a chance to fish on days that aren’t overcrowded by those coming in from out of town to fish the weekend.

“The number one comment we really received about last season is a lot of anglers would like another weekday opportunity,” Bannon said. “Some people who have the ability to avoid the weekends would if the weather’s going to be decent. So, let people who can only have the weekends go fish then and they would fish say a Monday. That’s what we’re considering is how to add Mondays in there.”