Accurate Gulf count, state control provide expanded red snapper season

Wow! An open recreational red snapper season this year, an opportunity that has seemed about as far away as the prospect was to President John Kennedy when, in 1961, he made that bold proclamation about putting a man on the moon before the end of that decade.

Yes, that happened. Joining that improbable way-back-then accomplishment is the recent announcement that this year Louisiana’s offshore fishermen will have the chance to take red snapper every day of the week beginning May 26, 2023.

The daily limit of three per day is a carryover from 2022, as is the 16-inch minimum “keeper” size.

Avid veteran red snapper chasers remember only-too-well when the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council came down with a three-day — yes, an unacceptable three days — of a red snapper season two decades ago. If you don’t remember that, count yourself as lucky.

Great red snapper count

Today, on the heels of the Great Red Snapper Count, our state’s 20,000-plus recreational offshore anglers are blessed by the efforts of so many to get, first, state management of this species, and second, to finally get a handle on just how many red snapper we have swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you never heard of the Great Red Snapper Count, with the push from Congressional members from the Gulf States, Congress voted to put money into the hands of independent marine fisheries biologists to determine the gulf’s red snapper population.

The result was a count three times the estimate federal fisheries managers proffered for years. That low estimate led to ultra-restricted seasons on a reef-fish species offshore fishermen knew was much more prolific than the federal data showed. Imagine that.

Those federal numbers just didn’t pass the eyeball test of the thousands of on-the-water anglers.

The Great Red Snapper Count pushed the Gulf Council to expand the allowable catch numbers, and in 2023, Louisiana’s allocation will be 934,587 pounds, up a sizable amount from last year’s 809,315 pounds.

And this year’s open season is a pleasant step up from 2022’s weekends-only seasons, when that restriction led to a brief halt in taking red snapper after the Labor Day holiday, but then continued in October and went all the way through to the end of the year.

Even with the expanded days, there is a good chance the recreational red snapper season will continue through to the Labor Day weekend because of that 125,000-pound increase.

It’s a good thing that the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission accepted the recommendation of this wide-open season, a move that generated a thumbs-down reaction when it was tried a handful of years ago.

ROLP

Offshore fishermen will have some of the same rules as in past years: you must have in possession valid state and saltwater recreational licenses and a fee-free Recreational Offshore Landing Permit to fish for and/or possess red snapper along with all other reef-fish and most pelagic species.

The ROLP is available on the LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov.

There are special rules for charter boats operating under separate state permits and federal permits, but know if you’re on a charter boat, the individual angler does not need a ROLP. But make sure the charter boat operation and/or the skipper on state for-hire boats has one.

Federally permitted charters are restricted to a shorter federal red snapper season, and state-permitted operations are limited to fishing in state waters out to nine miles.

Now, with the approaching season just weeks away, recreational fishermen should acquaint themselves with barotrauma-reducing devices, which, when used properly, allow released red snapper to survive. Information on descending equipment can be found on the LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov/page/barotrauma. This is an important part of keeping snapper populations thriving and it’s worth the time and effort.

With the May 26 opening, offshore fishermen will be allowed to take gray triggerfish until that season closes effective June 1-July 30. The season on taking greater amberjack is closed until Aug. 1.

Snapper time

This expanded red snapper season put a different light on summertime fishing in Louisiana. With an apology to bass, sac-a-lait and bream fishermen, red snapper and speckled trout are the two most targeted summertime species.

With new regulations on speckled trout in limbo, it appears Louisiana’s coastal anglers will probably continue with a 25-per-day, 12-inch minimum size on this fish.

Even if a new proposal is forthcoming from Wildlife and Fisheries marine fisheries managers, it appears new regulations could not be enacted before September.

The wrangling over new trout-catching rules comes after our state’s Senate and House Natural Resources committees rejected the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission-passed 15-fish, 13.5-inch minimum earlier this year.

Sometime this spring, the commission will meet with LDWF fisheries folks and user groups to agree on a new proposed speckled trout plan. And, waiting in the wings is what plan the LDWF comes up with to bolster dwindling redfish stocks in state waters.

For now, though, let’s all just celebrate this new red snapper season.