Bannon expects return to 'normal' Alabama recreational snapper season

By David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Posted 3/23/22

Alabama's 2022 red snapper season for private recreational anglers will follow the same schedule as the 2021 season, but Scott Bannon, Director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural …

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Bannon expects return to 'normal' Alabama recreational snapper season

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Alabama's 2022 red snapper season for private recreational anglers will follow the same schedule as the 2021 season, but Scott Bannon, Director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Marine Resources Division (MRD), would be surprised if the 2022 season closes in similar fashion.

The 2022 season opens the Friday (May 27) before Memorial Day and runs each extended weekend from Friday through Monday until Alabama's annual quota is projected to be met. Right now, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries has not released the quotas for 2022.

"We anticipate our quota for this year will be similar to last year's, which was 1.12 million pounds," Bannon said. "If the fishing effort is 'normal,' and the weather is favorable, we'll fish probably 30 to 40 days, depending on the effort. We encourage people that if the weather is bad, don't go. Wait until the weather is better."

While this year's season is projected to last around 40 days, the 2021 season was open for 124 days due to several factors.

"Early in the peak season (middle of the summer), fishing conditions were problematic for a lot of people due to tropical weather, especially the smaller boats, so the effort was not what we expected early in the year," Bannon said. "Then as you get later in the year, people are drawn into other activities. School is in session. Your kids are participating in school sports. Hunting season becomes a priority for many people later in the year. So as long as we have quota, we will remain open. It just worked out last year that we closed the last Monday of the year in December."

Despite higher fuel prices, Bannon thinks if the weather is good in the upper Gulf of Mexico, red snapper anglers will be on the water.

"If the weather is perfect and the effort is high, I think it could be like 2020," he said. "When COVID-19 first hit and only outdoors activities were considered safe and healthy, a tremendous number of people went fishing because they couldn't do anything else."

The 2020 season lasted 44 days, and the 2019 season was open 35 days with similar quotas.

"Once we get through the peak summertime effort, it really levels off," Bannon said. "It has spiked early and flattened out for the past several years."

Anyone interested in the 2021 Snapper Check numbers can visit www.outdooralabama.com/mrd-fisheries-section/red-snapper-faqs for details.

The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) recently completed its first meeting of 2022, and the results were mixed, according to Bannon.The SSC voted to change the red snapper overfishing limit from 25 million pounds to 18.9 million pounds. However, the allowable biological catch (ABC) was increased from 15.1 million pounds to 16.3 million pounds.

"Those recommendations will be presented to the Gulf Council," Bannon said. "The Gulf Council will set the annual catch limit (ACL), which can be up to the ABC, or it can be lower. They'll probably have discussions about it at the April (4-7) meeting in Gulf Shores (The Lodge at Gulf State Park)."

Alabama's federally permitted charter (for-hire) fleet operates under the federal regulations and not the state-managed system that governs anglers fishing from state-licensed-only charter vessels and private recreational vessels. NOAA Fisheries has not set the federal for-hire season, but Bannon expects a June 1 opening with a season length of 62 or 63 days. The charter season is open seven days a week until it closes.

"The federally permitted charter boats are moving to an electronic reporting system, similar to Snapper Check," Bannon said. "They have to report their catch for every species electronically after every trip. That's going to really fine-tune the data for the federal for-hire boats, and it gives them, potentially, the opportunity to add more days to the season or additional days later in the year if they don't reach their quota."

The charter fleet was afforded two extra weeks of fishing last fall because NOAA estimated the fleet didn't reach its quota during the summer season.

"NOAA Fisheries will receive charter boat reports daily," Bannon said. "Before, they didn't know how many were caught until well after the season was over. Now they're going to get real-time data from the for-hires. I think it's going to have a lot of benefits for the charter fishing fleet. It also works the other way. If the season is going really well, it can ensure that snapper are not overfished. Typically, with the season length the for-hires have, that has not been a problem, but it will help ensure they're not overfished.

"In Alabama, we work very hard to make sure our private recreational anglers and state charter boats don't overfish the quota by using Snapper Check. And remember that amberjack and gray triggerfish are also required to be reported when landed in Alabama no matter where they were caught."

Anglers landing red snapper in Alabama with private boats are required by law to complete one landing report per vessel trip of their harvested red snapper through Snapper Check before the fish are removed from the boat or the boat with the fish is removed from the water. Reporting of greater amberjack and gray triggerfish also is mandatory. Owners/operators of federally permitted charter vessels are required to possess an Alabama Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement, but they no longer need to report in Snapper Check due to the implementation of the federal electronic reporting system.

The easiest way to comply with the reporting requirement is through the Snapper Check app found on the Outdoor AL app. The app is available from Apple and Android stores. Reports can also be submitted online at www.outdooralabama.com. Paper reports and drop boxes are no longer available.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation called the DESCEND Act that goes into effect this year. The act requires all vessels that are fishing for reef fish to have a venting tool or descending tool on board and ready to use when fishing. The venting tool is used to release gases from the fish's swim bladder to allow it to return to the reef naturally. The descending device is used by attaching the fish to the device, which slowly lowers the fish to a certain depth before releasing it. The goal is to reduce the effects of barotrauma and increase the survival rate of discarded fish.

In conjunction with the DESCEND Act, the "Return 'Em Right" program is a new effort that aims to improve survival of released reef fish by providing anglers with both the knowledge and tools to help return fish to the reef habitat. Visit returnemright.org for more information on how to receive reef fish release gear ($100 value) for free.

Anglers, both private and for-hire, have been concerned about the amount of discarded reef fish that are being eaten by sharks and bottlenose dolphins. Bannon said the only solution is to reduce the number of discards."I encourage people who encounter sharks and dolphins to avoid high-grading and culling," he said. "Keep those fish that are of legal size. There is no way to prevent that from happening unless you minimize the number of discarded fish. Remember, the quota is based on millions of pounds of fish, not millions of fish."For private recreational anglers, weekends are defined as 12:01 a.m. Friday through 11:59 p.m. Monday. The daily bag limit remains at two red snapper per person per day with a minimum size limit of 16 inches total length.

Anglers over the age of 16 must have a valid Alabama saltwater fishing license. Any Alabama resident 65 or older or a lifetime saltwater license holder must have a current saltwater angler registration. The saltwater angler registration is free and available at www.outdooralabama.com/saltwater-fishing/saltwater-angler-registration.

Also, all anglers 16 years of age and older who possess red snapper or other gulf reef fish are required to have an Alabama Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement, available at www.outdooralabama.com/saltwater-fishing/saltwater-reef-fish-endorsement.

"The reef fish endorsement is required when possessing any reef fish, including gray, or mangrove, snapper," Bannon said. "They are often caught in inside waters like Mobile Bay and Perdido Pass, and if you're going to keep them, you have to have a reef fish endorsement."

Bannon isn't quite sure how inflation is going to impact the red snapper season, but it will likely affect all aspects of the fishing trip.

"We don't know if the increase in fuel cost will reduce the effort," he said. "We understand that people will still go, but because of the extraordinarily high fuel prices it may affect the effort. And for the private angler, it will affect bait and everything associated with it.

"But I still believe, with our latest reef-building efforts, that we will have a good snapper season in Alabama this year."

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