As Gulf Red Snapper Season Starts, Changes on the Horizon for Anglers

State management experiment expected to become permanent in 2020

May 28, 2019
Matt Smelser,, (202) 572-3272

(Galveston, Texas – May 28, 2019) If your summers usually include heading out on a fishing trip in the Gulf, new rules expected in 2020 may help give anglers more fishing opportunity while allowing the iconic red snapper to continue to rebuild. NOAA and the Gulf states have agreed to a new approach that gives each Gulf state the authority to set red snapper fishing seasons for private anglers in the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers may recall that a pilot using this approach began last year, and if signed by the U.S. Commerce Secretary, this new rule will make that change standard in the years to come.   

To help highlight these changes and what they mean for anglers and conservation, Environmental Defense Fund has issued the following list of the top five changes (with links to relevant resources) that anglers can use to be in-the-know before they hit the water this season.

1) Seasons will vary by state: There is no longer a uniform federal season. Gulf states will now manage out to 200 miles and can set their own state and federal water seasons. This may mean that some states only allow fishing on weekends or weekdays through certain months. So anglers now need to check each state’s season before planning a trip. Information for each state can be found here: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

2) A state-specific license is needed: Anglers need a license for the state in which they plan to land the fish. Additionally, if you are in possession of red snapper in any state waters, you need the license for that state. So if you launch and land in Texas but also possess red snapper in state waters off Louisiana, you must have a Texas and Louisiana license. The same is true for anglers launching from Alabama that fish and possess red snapper in Florida state waters. Know the different rules before you go. The Fish Rules app helps identify all the differences between regulations in state and federal waters off each state.

3) Self-reporting: Each state is collecting their own red snapper harvest data using dockside data collection. All states have electronic reporting apps to make it easier, and some require that you do so. Regardless of requirements, angler self-reported data is essential because it helps scientists and managers understand changes in fishing effort and fish populations. Reporting requirements for each state can be found at the following links: Florida’s iAngler Gulf Red Snapper App, Alabama’s Snapper Check, Mississippi’s Tails n’ Scales, Louisiana’s Recreational Offshore Landing Permit (ROLP) App and Texas’ iSnapper App.

4)  Quota overages: States are required to adhere to specific private-angler quotas, measured in pounds of fish landed. So, projected seasons can end early or extend longer if catch is different than projected (for example, if more anglers are participating than anticipated, average size of fish is larger than anticipated, or offshore weather is nicer than expected). States that stay within their quota this year won’t have to reduce total harvest next year, but states that overrun their quota will have to pay back those overages next year.

5) Private anglers only: It’s important to note that these new rules are for private anglers only. Anglers fishing on charter boats and party boats will have a different federal season.

These changes are the result of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passing Amendment 50 in April 2019, a new rule that tasks each state with managing its own allocation of red snapper. The changes also task states with the responsibility of setting state and federal fishing seasons and monitoring harvest levels. While it will go into effect in 2020, it will continue a pilot already in place that runs through the rest of 2019.  

This is another example of how the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working to protect our nation’s fish stocks through a regional, stakeholder-driven process. The Gulf Council was able to customize this solution for private boat-owning anglers without hurting tens-of-thousands of anglers who fish from charter boats or the commercial fishermen that provide the country with seafood.

“Perhaps the most important item to note is the opportunity to self-report your catch, which is something we urge everyone to do,” said Sepp Haukebo, a recreational fisherman who also leads EDF’s work with private anglers in the Gulf. “Even if reporting is not required by your state, the data you provide can help ensure the long term sustainability of the resource and access to red snapper for future generations of anglers. So, get out there, have a great time and don’t forget to report your catch each day.”

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