Alabama red snapper season opens May 28
Anglers can fish four day weekends until quota filled
Alabama state waters and federal waters will open to private vessel anglers for red snapper fishing on Friday, May 28. The season will consist of four-day weekends, Friday through Monday, beginning Friday, May 28, and continue until the private angler quota is projected to be met.
The exact Alabama private angler quota has not yet been provided by the National Marine Fisheries service, but is anticipated to be similar to the 2020 quota
These dates only apply to anglers fishing from recreational vessels and state-licensed Alabama commercial party boats that do not hold federal for-hire fishing permits.
The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council voted in April to partially incorporate the Great Red Snapper Count, which estimated the red snapper population in the Gulf is three times higher than previous estimates, into the Gulf Council management process. However, that action may have little impact on the 2021 red snapper season.
“The Scientific and Statistical Committee is the science advisory panel for the Gulf Council,” said Scott Bannon, Director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division. “The purpose of the meeting was to review the Great Red Snapper Count, provide feedback and decide if it should be used in the interim analysis for red snapper this year and how it should be applied.’’
The Great Red Snapper Count estimated the abundance of red snapper in the Gulf at 110 million fish. Previous assessments from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries estimated the number of red snapper at 36 million fish.
“The committee voted on whether that data was the best science available for setting the overfishing limit,” Bannon said. “They voted that in. The number they chose for the overfishing limit was 25.6 million pounds. The Magnuson-Stevens Act states that you cannot exceed that overfishing limit or immediate changes will have to be implemented to prevent overfishing.”
Bannon said the previous overfishing limit was set at 15.5 million pounds, so the new recommended overfishing limit is a 10.1 million-pound increase. The committee then recommended that the acceptable biological catch (ABC) be set at 15.4 million pounds, which Bannon vigorously questioned.
“That’s a 10 million-pound difference from the overfishing limit,” he said. “That’s a 44-percent buffer, which I’m disappointed in. That is relatively unheard of in fisheries management. I am pleased with the recommended increase in the overfishing limit. I’m not pleased with the ABC.”
The Gulf Council will set the annual catch limit (ACL) for allocations among the five Gulf states for the 2021 season.
“With only 300,000 new pounds available, that’s a negligible increase,” Bannon said. “That increase would potentially be applied to all of the sectors – commercial, charter and private anglers.”
Another hurdle for private anglers is NOAA Fisheries is pushing that the catch data from the Marine Recreation Information Program (MRIP) survey and state reporting systems be “calibrated,” which could significantly impact Alabama’s quota and reduce the number of fishing days for private recreational anglers.
“Our goal is to avoid calibration,” Bannon said. “With calibration, Alabama and Mississippi allocations would be cut in half.”
Under calibration alternatives, Alabama’s quota for red snapper could go from 1.12 million pounds in 2020 to 547,298 pounds in 2021.
“Naturally we didn’t agree with that,” Bannon said. “NOAA Fisheries said that was going to be required because the fishery may have met the overfishing limit in 2019. The catch for 2019 barely exceeded the 15.5 million-pound limit by 150,000 pounds. That is Gulf-wide in all sectors, including private anglers, for-hire and commercial, but with the new Great Red Snapper Count data, whether there was overfishing at all in 2019 is in question.
“Our goal at the upcoming Gulf Council meeting is to postpone any calibration until the Great Red Snapper Count is fully integrated into the stock assessment so that Alabama and Mississippi would fish at the same level we’ve fished for the previous couple of years under the EFP (Exempted Fishing Permit) and state management, which is around a million pounds.”
The MRIP surveys have considerably overestimated red snapper catches compared to Alabama’s Red Snapper Reporting System, known as Snapper Check.
“We say we landed about a million pounds, but the MRIP survey says we landed about 2.5 million pounds,” Bannon said. “We have a monitoring program that we feel is accurate, and we are harvesting at a sustainable level.
“The Great Red Snapper Count says there are 10 million red snapper off the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi. We’re not getting the access to those fish that we would like. Across the Gulf, the count says there are 110 million fish, so no state is really getting the access to the fish we think they should.”
Anglers fishing from federally permitted for-hire vessels have their own 63-day season beginning June 1 at 12:01 a.m. local time through August 3 at 12:01 a.m. local time.
As in recent years, Alabama will use Snapper Check to monitor landings during the season and will provide semi-weekly updates at outdooralabama. com.
The National Marine Fisheries service 2020 quota was 1,122,662 pounds. When the 2021 quota, which is expected to be about the same, is anticipated to be met, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division will announce a closure date.
Weekends are defined as 12:01 a.m. Friday through 11:59 p.m. Monday.
The daily bag limit will be two red snapper per person, per day with a minimum size limit of 16 inches total length.
“I applaud the Gulf Council’s decision to reject the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) misguided attempts to cut Alabama’s red snapper season after recognizing there is three times the amount of red snapper in the Gulf than they previously estimated,’’ said Alabama Senator Jerry Carl. “I’m grateful the Council listened to the advice of local leaders and anglers who know how to manage their own fisheries, instead of listening to D.C. bureaucrats.’’
Anglers over the age of 16 must have an Alabama saltwater fishing license (resident or non-resident, annual or trip), and any Alabama resident 65 or older or a lifetime saltwater license holder must have a current saltwater angler registration and an Alabama Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement to possess gulf reef fish. Both are free and available at outdooralabama. com.
Anglers under 16 are not required to be licensed, possess an Alabama Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement or have saltwater angler registration, but their catch must be included in a landing report.
Each vessel landing red snapper in Alabama is required by law to complete one landing report per vessel trip of their harvested red snapper through Snapper Check prior to removing the fish from the boat or the boat with the fish being removed from the water. All red snapper landed are required to be reported prior to landing regardless of the jurisdiction in which they were caught.
Greater amberjack and gray trigger fish are also required to be reported and may be included in the same report.
A landing report may be submitted through Snapper Check in the Outdoor AL app, which is available from Apple and Android stores or online at outdooralabama.com. Paper reports and drop boxes are no longer available.