Better hurry if you want to catch a triggerfish in the Gulf of Mexico.
And get ready to wait a long time before you can put an amberjack in the ice box.
The recreational season for gray triggerfish will close on May 11, and will not reopen again until March of 2020. The 2019 season is just 72 days, instead of the usual 173 days. It is possible, depending on federal estimates of the 2019 harvest, that triggerfish could remain closed even longer.
Greater amberjack season, meanwhile, which would normally reopen on May 1 will remain closed until August. Thatâ€™s because federal officials estimated that fishermen caught the entire annual quota of amberjack for the last year during August, September and October of 2018.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which sets fishing seasons for Gulf species in concert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, made the announcement this week in a Fishery Bulletin. With the shortened seasons for red snapper in the last decade, officials have tried to keep triggerfish and amberjack open as much as possible during the 10 to 11 months of the year red snapper were off limits.
But thatâ€™s proven increasingly difficult in recent years. Both greater amberjack and triggerfish have experienced shorter seasons of late, due to increased fishing pressure and annual catches in excess of the allowed quota, according to federal estimates.
Normally, the triggerfish season is open for 8 months of the year, though not all in a row. The trigger season is always closed during January and February due to spawning, and then closed during red snapper season to help relieve fishing pressure on triggers.
But the 2019 trigger fish season will last just 72 days, instead of the usual 173 days.
This yearâ€™s amberjack season will last just 92 days.
Amberjack are considered overfished in the Gulf of Mexico, a technical term under National Marine Fisheries Service regulations that means federal officials must reduce the harvest dramatically to comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.
While there will be grumbling a plenty about the shortened seasons, Orange Beach charter captain Troy Frady, owner of Distraction Deep Sea Fishing Charters, said officials were making the right calls.
â€śThatâ€™s the right thing to do, shutting the seasons down. First off, the Gulf Council has come a long way in trying to keep something open year round that we could fish for,â€ť Frady said. â€śItâ€™s not perfect, but the way things are now, we have something we can fish for about six months out of the year. You see, everything is in a rebuilding program — red snapper, amberjack and triggers. We are building the stocks back up and we will end up with longer seasons. Shutting down the amberjack in the peak spawning season, in April and May, that allows the larger fish to spawn. There was a biological reason for shutting down amberjack. If we hadnâ€™t exceeded our quota in the fall, they would have opened amberjack up in May, but we caught our limit in August, September and October.â€ť
Frady said he was in favor of the current management. For charter captains like him, his customers can bring home snapper and grouper in June and July, amberjack in August through October, and triggerfish in the early spring.
â€śEven though it is not perfect, it is still better than where we were a few years ago. I want to be the positive guy. This can work for us. Itâ€™s better than it was, itâ€™s biologically acceptable, and it equals out the playing field so we have something to catch in the fall. This gives us something to catch six months out of the year now,â€ť Frady said. â€śWe can catch triggerfish with the spring break crowd, and the way the rebuilding is working, a single triggerfish can feed three or four people.â€ť
Ben Raines specializes in investigations and natural wonders. You can follow him via Facebook, Twitter at BenHRaines, and on Instagram. You can reach him via email at email@example.com.
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