Frequently Asked Questions: 2015 Recreational Gulf Red Snapper Season and Sector Separation
Prepared by FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management – May 2015
Who manages red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico?
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) manages red snapper in state waters (from shore out to 9 nautical miles in the Gulf).
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) manages red snapper in federal waters (beyond 9 nautical miles) off the Gulf coast of Florida and federal waters off of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. NOAA Fisheries reviews regulation recommendations from the Gulf Council and decides whether or not to approve the regulations as an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
FWC staff serves on the Gulf Council and coordinates with other Gulf states and NOAA Fisheries to improve fisheries management.
What is the recreational red snapper season for Gulf state waters in 2015?
The FWC set the Gulf recreational red snapper season at its April 16 meeting in Tallahassee. The season in state waters will be 70 days in 2015 including:
- the Saturday before Memorial Day (May 23 this year) through July 12
- Saturdays and Sundays in September and October
- Labor Day (first Monday in September)
- Since Oct. 31 falls on a Saturday in 2015, the last day of harvest will be Sunday, Nov. 1, with the season closing on Monday, Nov. 2
Why did the FWC select a 70-day recreational season for Gulf state waters?
The Saturday before Memorial Day state recreational season opening was first used in the 2014 state waters season as a way to increase harvest opportunities for anglers over a holiday weekend. In addition, many stakeholders have commented on the importance of fishing opportunities in the fall, which lead to the inclusion of fall weekends in September and October, and another holiday (Labor Day). The selected season balances the economic and social needs of Florida’s recreational anglers with the conservation needs of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
Earlier this year, a stock assessment update for red snapper was completed and indicated the stock continues to rebuild, which prompted the Gulf Council to approve a 3.3 million pound quota increase for red snapper in 2015 (this quota increase is pending approval from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce). Based on this information, the selected season will provide more fishing opportunities for private anglers without causing a significant increase in harvest that could result in a quota overage and negatively impact the recreational sector. Federal recreational season lengths for red snapper in the Gulf have been decreasing since 2008, resulting in decreased fishing opportunities.
What is the recreational harvest season for red snapper in Gulf federal waters (beyond 9 nautical miles from shore)?
The 2015 federal recreational season for red snapper in Gulf waters has not yet been finalized. NOAA Fisheries will announce the exact season lengths and dates for Gulf federal waters around May 1. The table below shows current season estimates for private anglers and federally-permitted for-hire vessels.
Federally-Permitted For-Hire Vessels
Current season estimate: 7-11 days
Current season estimate: 40-46 days
Why do private anglers and federally-permitted for-hire vessels have different federal season lengths in 2015?
Recently, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce approved sector separation, which divides the recreational red snapper sector into a private angler subsector and a federally-permitted for-hire subsector. Sector separation provides increased fishing opportunities for federally-permitted for-hire vessels, but decreases fishing opportunities for private anglers fishing for red snapper in federal waters. See below for more questions related to sector separation.
How is the federal season determined?
By law, NOAA Fisheries must close the red snapper fishery when the recreational quota is projected to be met. NOAA Fisheries determines the recreational season length based on how quickly they estimate the recreational sector will reach the annual catch target. Beginning in 2014, a 20% buffer was put in place to help prevent recreational quota overages. The federal season calculations take into account expected inconsistent seasons in state waters of Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The federal season calculations also take into account the average weight of fish landed by recreational anglers and catch rates by recreational anglers during both federal and state red snapper seasons.
Why are some headboats (also called party boats) able to keep red snapper and gag grouper outside of the federal season?
A total of 19 vessels throughout the Gulf (including nine from Florida) are part of a two-year federal headboat pilot program, which began in 2014 and will end after 2015. The group of headboats was allocated a percentage of the total recreational red snapper and gag grouper quota to fish throughout the year in order to test an alternative management strategy for headboats. These headboats are still required abide by federal size limit and bag limit restrictions, and are prohibited from harvesting gag grouper seaward of 20 fathoms during the February through March Gulf closure. Once NOAA Fisheries determines that the total Gulf recreational red snapper quota has been met, these headboats must stop harvesting red snapper for the remainder of the year. Learn more.
During the Gulf state waters season for red snapper, can I harvest red snapper in federal waters when federal waters are closed and land them in Florida?Can I harvest red snapper in open state waters and then fish in closed federal waters on the same trip?
No. Harvest and possession of red snapper in federal waters would only be permitted when federal waters are open and possession of red snapper in federal waters when federal waters are closed is prima facie evidence to law enforcement that any red snapper on board the vessel were harvested at the location where the vessel is stopped (in this case, federal waters). When red snapper are closed in federal waters, red snapper can only be harvested in open state waters.
Can federally-permitted for-hire vessels harvest red snapper in state waters?
As a requirement of the federal permit, federally-permitted for-hire vessels must follow federal rules even when fishing in state waters. Therefore, federally-permitted for-hire vessels can fish for red snapper in state waters only if both state and federal waters are open during that time. If federal waters are closed, federally-permitted for-hire vessels cannot fish in open state waters.
Will the 70-day state season for Gulf red snapper further affect the 2015 recreational red snapper seasons in federal waters?
No. The seven to 11-day federal recreational red snapper season estimate for private anglers and the 40-46 day estimate for federally-permitted for-hire vessels by NOAA Fisheries already takes into account Florida’s 70-day recreational season in Gulf state waters.
Why are commercial red snapper fishermen able to fish outside of the recreational seasons?
Commercial red snapper harvesters in the Gulf do not have a "season" like recreational anglers have. Instead, they are strictly regulated and monitored under a federal Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) system in which each harvester is only allowed to harvest a certain amount of red snapper per year. When commercial harvesters catch their quota, they must immediately stop fishing for red snapper.