The 2018 recreational season will run June 11 to July 21.
TALLAHASSEE — The state has set a 40-day red snapper season for recreational anglers in federal and state waters this year.
The season will run June 11 to July 21, which is significantly longer than the 24-day season — May 27 to mid-June — the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission originally had proposed. The season for-hire vessels, which includes charter boats and head boats, has not yet been announced and is still under the direction of the federal government.
“Florida is a premier fishing destination, and saltwater fishing in the Gulf of Mexico has a $7.6 billion economic impact in our state every year,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a press release announcing the season. “Adding additional opportunities for anglers to enjoy Florida’s world-class fishing not only benefits our visitors but also our Gulf Coast communities.”
The announcement marks the first time ever the state has been able to set the season for recreational anglers and non-reef-permitted charter captains in federal waters, as part of a two-year pilot program among the five Gulf states and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“We are going to give the states an opportunity to demonstrate effective management that improves recreational opportunities for all Americans,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a press release.
The decision is a result of fierce backlash last year when the federal government initially set a federal red snapper season of just three days for recreational anglers. The season later was expanded, but the initial decision spurred protests of NOAA’s management — including one in Panama City — that led to the pilot program giving the state’s more say.
“This is something that has been in the works for a while,” FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley said Tuesday.
Alabama has announced a 47-day season under the pilot program. Texas is anticipating an 82-day season. Mississippi and Louisiana have not formally announced yet, but both are expecting to offer at least 40 days of fishing.
“Florida is an important access point throughout the nation and world for recreational red snapper fishing,” FWC Chairman Bo Rivard said Tuesday. “With other Gulf states setting longer seasons than what Florida had initially proposed, it was important for us to find a fair resolution that would provide equal access to red snapper in Florida. FWC worked collaboratively with NOAA Fisheries to come up with a season that would provide access to all of those that choose Florida as their fishing destination.”
Mitch Coleman, a non-reef-permitted charter captain out of Mexico Beach, said he is happy to see the states be given more control and to see that FWC ultimately went with a 40-day season instead of the original 24. However, the change of dates, he said, has presented an issue for him.
“I had already booked nine trips (between May 27 and June 9),” he said. “I’ve been calling clients telling them they won’t be able to keep snapper.”
Most of them canceled. Coleman said he spoke to three other captains who are in a similar position.
“It’s hard to run a business this way,” he said.
Questions about when the federal season would be announced for-hire boats were redirected by a NOAA spokesperson to the Department of Commerce, which did not provide an answer.
A similarly redirected question about if changes could still be made by the federal government to this season to account for any potential harvest over the allowable catch last season also went unanswered.