The snapper bite is on fire right now.
From 65 feet to 160 feet of water, from Jupiter to Port Canaveral, offshore anglers are finding really good snapper fishing on the reefs. All kinds, too.
Mutton snapper, mangrove (or gray) snapper, lane snapper, vermilion snapper, even a few yellowtail snapper are being caught and loaded into iced fish boxes on party boats, charter boats and the boats of weekend warriors, too. The winds could be kinder, and it would be nice to not have to fish in the rain, but those hale and hearty enough to fish anyway are being rewarded with fillets for the fryer.
That is, with all but one species of snapper. Lately, it seems, the genuine red snapper is becoming an all too common catch.
And that’s a good thing, and a bad thing.
It’s good because it means the species is on its way back to a healthy population. According to fishery management stock assessments in 2008, red snapper were becoming “overfished,” a definition which meant harvest in South Atlantic waters was to halt until the red snapper stocksÂ could rebound.
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It’s bad because many charter boat captains areÂ telling me regularly they are having trouble catching other species of snapper which inhabit the same reef structures as red snapper. For example, if a charter boat skipper wants to steer his clients to catches of mangrove snapper, mutton snapper, gag grouper or red grouper on a reef off Vero Beach, he is unable to get a bait down to the reef if a school of red snapper has chosen to hover above the reef. Every bait dropped down will get snapped up by a red snapper.
Sometimes, the air bladder in the red snapper will expand when it is reeled in. The angler has to properly vent the snapper before sending it back down. Often, the fish doesn’t descend, and floats near the surface where it likely dies. Other times, the sharks get it.
Either way, the snapper is removed from the stock, and that can hurt the future of the red snapper, say conservationists.
Yet, the catch photos keep flowing in.
Saturday morning, Capt. Patrick Price of DayMaker charters in Stuart texted me a photo. Friday afternoon, Capt. Jonathan Earhart of Chaos charters in Stuart posted a photo to his Facebook page. Recently I’ve seen photos on Facebook from Capt. Chris Cameron of Fired Up charters as well as the Orlando Princess party boat, both out ofÂ Port Canaveral;Â Capt. Terry Wildey of Big Easy charters in Sebastian;Â and Capt. Rich Kluglein of Fins charters and Lady Chris party boat, both out of Fort Pierce.
On Instagram and Facebook, at least, the red snapper stocks appear to be healthy.Â I know, social media does not make science, nor does it make fishing policy. But now is the time for anglers to speak up for the right toÂ catch and keep a red snapper.Â
The National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service is requesting public comment on proposed changes to red snapper management. One proposed change is to allow for a brief red snapper fishing season to take place in the South Atlantic region each July. The season, if approved, would probably take place beginning the second Friday of July. It would continue until an allocated number of fish are harvestedÂ â€” this year, it would be 42,510 red snapper for both the recreational and commercial fishing sector, combined. Of those, 29,656 would be allocated for recreational anglers.
Already, more than 1,500 comments have come in, but the fishery managers need more. Access to even one red snapper for an angler could make or break a day for someone, or encourage an angler to charter a boat.
We just went through this process with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for land-based shark fishing and a limited harvest of Goliath grouper. No one in favor of either spoke to the commissioners when they had a meeting in late April. I was there.Â If you want to keep a red snapper, but don’t chime in, I don’t want to hear you griping on Facebook about being shut out of the fishery.
In the meantime, keep the reports coming in to me, and good fishing. Enjoy those snapper catches.
To post a public comment on Amendment 43 to the Fishery Management Plan for Snapper Grouper in Atlantic waters, go toÂ NOAA’s Red Snapper Public Comment Page. The comment period is open until June 18. To learn more about red snapper stocks in South Atlantic waters of the United States go toÂ http://safmc.net/regulations/regulations-by-species/red-snapper/.
Ed Killer is the outdoors columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com, and this column reflects his opinion. Friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 772-221-4201.