History of Gulf of Mexico red snapper regulations

Red Snapper - Lutjanus campechanus

Red snapper is one of the most important recreational and commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and has been for over a century, particularly in the Florida Panhandle.  In Florida, red snapper are primarily caught by recreational anglers fishing from charter boats.  However, there is a substantial commercial fishery.

Due to their popularity as table fare and as a sport fish, red snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico have been overfished since the early 1980s.  Efforts are in place to rebuild the populations throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Red Snapper

Regulations for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico were changed for state and federal waters prior to the 2008 fishing season.  These regulations reduced the recreational bag limit and substantially reduced the recreational harvest season.  The red snapper commercial fishery implemented an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) system in 2007 and operated under a lower overall quota in 2008 and 2009.  Also, reef fish gear rules are in effect in state and federal waters.

An update on the Gulf red snapper stock assessment was held in Miami August 24-28, 2009.  The assessment update indicated that overfishing has stopped; however, the stock is still overfished and is estimated to be rebuilt in 2032.  The assessment also indicated that an increase in total allowable catch is warranted.  This is encouraging news and indicates that the stock is rebuilding.  In response to the assessment update, NOAA Fisheries Service published a final rule to increase the total allowable catch (TAC) for the Gulf red snapper fishery from 5.0 million pounds (mp) to 6.945 mp for 2010. This final rule also set the length of the 2010 recreational red snapper season in federal waters on the Gulf of Mexico to June 1 through July 23.

The FWC approved a federal consistency action making the state red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico consistent with the June 1 through July 23 federal season at its April meeting.

Catch levels during the June 1 through July 23 open season were less than the 2010 established recreational Gulf red snapper harvest quota due to fishing closures caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  In response, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) and NOAA Fisheries Service opened recreational red snapper for a supplemental season in Gulf federal waters during weekends only (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays) from Friday October 1, 2010 through Sunday November 21, 2010.

The FWC opened a consistent supplemental recreational red snapper season via executive order icon_PDF.gif in Gulf of Mexico state waters.

In October 2010, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved a regulatory amendment that would increase the TAC for red snapper for 2011 to 7.185 million pounds.  This increase in TAC is dependent on the 2010 total allowable catch not being exceeded and approval by the Secretary of Commerce. 

NOAA Fisheries Service published a final rule implementing increases in the commercial and recreational red snapper quotas in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico to 3.66 and 3.866 million pounds, respectively.  They also announced the 2011 recreational red snapper season for federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico will be from June 1 through July 18.  This 48-day season was chosen in part to the increasing size of landed fish.

The FWC Commissioners ruled to adopt a consistent recreational red snapper harvest season for Gulf of Mexico state waters at the June 2011 Commission Meeting. 

In April 2011, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to increase Gulf of Mexico red snapper catch limits for 2012 and 2013, and to allow for future openings of the recreational red snapper season in late fall if there is remaining quota. The red snapper catch limit was increased for 2012 to 8.080 million pounds and for 2013 to 8.690 million pounds.

Based on the updated catch limits, a 40-day, June 1 through July 10 federal recreational season was proposed and adopted. This season is shorter than the 2011 season because of increased fishing effort and larger fish being caught, which has caused the catch limit to be reached faster. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a 40-day, June 1 through July 10 recreational season for state waters at the May 2, 2012, Commission meeting. This season was the same as the proposed federal season.

The 2012 season was extended in state and federal waters a total of 6 days, with the final day of harvest being July 16. NOAA Fisheries decided to extend the federal season because bad weather in June led to decreased fishing opportunities and effort.

In April 2013, FWC approved a 44-day season in state waters, June 1 through July 14. This season was inconsistent with the federal season. The Commission chose to go inconsistent based on reports that the upcoming federal stock assessment would likely show red snapper populations are doing better than previously thought and reports from anglers that the fishery is improving.

In May 2013, the federal season was set to 26 days off Florida. This season was changed to 28 days on June 5 after a court ruled against an emergency rule giving the agency the authority to adjust seasons off each Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) state based on whether their state-water seasons and bag limits were consistent with federal regulations. On May 31, 2013, the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, set aside that emergency rule. As a result of this Court decision, the federal recreational red snapper season must be the same in federal waters off all five Gulf states. The federal season started June 1 and ran through June 28.

FWC Facts:
According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 66.1 million people engage in wildlife observation, spending about $38.5 billion per year.

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