Anglers should enjoy many more weeks of snapper season.
Offshore fishermen rejoice: There will likely be many more weekends in the 2019 red snapper season.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries released some early red snapper catch statistics this past week, which show that anglers still have a long way to go to meet their annual allotted quota for the prized offshore fish.
LDWF released that fishermen had caught 200,890 pounds of the fish, as of June 9, 2019. That number is 25 percent of Louisiana’s allocation for the season. The numbers were recorded by LA Creel, LDWF’s real-time data collection program.
The season will remain open until recreational landings approach or reach the state’s private recreational allocation of 816,439 pounds — a number approved under the Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP), using landings estimates provided by LA Creel.
At the current rate of catch, anglers should be able to fish well into the summer — covering virtually all of the summer rodeo season.
“I think the new program and system is fair,” said Larose native Lance Guidry, who said he fishes offshore from time to time. “We respect the transparency. I think in the past, that was the problem. Rules would be set without any explanation. Now, it’s clear cut. Here is what you can catch per day. Here is how many you can catch for the season.”
The 2019 private recreational red snapper season started on May 24 in both state and federal waters. In the two-plus weeks from May 24 to June 9 (when the round of data was measured), anglers got a quarter of the catch inland.
But a quick sprint to the finish is not expected because the season is heavily limited to allow more anglers to get out on the water and have their chance at catching the fish.
Snapper season runs weekends only (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) with exceptions made for holidays (Monday of Memorial Day and Thursday of Fourth of July).
Anglers are allowed a daily bag limit of two fish and each snapper caught must be at least 16-inches total in length.
“They’re working with us now,” said Robert Jackson, a local who frequently fishes Grand Isle with his family. “In the past, they were dictating to us. Now, they’re talking to us.”
That cooperation is, in part, because of a drastic shift in how the fish are policed in government.
This is the season season that Louisiana operates under its current EFP, which allows the state to manage the private recreational red snapper season in state and federal waters.
Before recent years, there were stringent restrictions and regulations on the red snapper season in Louisiana — if there was a season at all.
Environmentalists had long argued previously that the fish were being over-harvested and thrust into endangered species status by anglers in the Gulf of Mexico.
But anglers always fought back those claims, saying that the tests being done to sample population were not an accurate depiction of actual snapper numbers because they were not being done in waters where snapper school — primarily near structure in deeper Gulf waters.
“If I wrote a letter to your newspaper saying that I looked for an elephant on Grand Isle, but didn’t find one, so because of that, elephants are now extinct, your readers would laugh at me and say my opinion was crazy,” Jackson said. “But that’s the same thing we thought when they were testing the snapper population in areas where we knew there would never be any fish. We were catching them — even without trying to. But they’re telling us there’s no fish? It never added up.
“It was like looking with your eyes closed.”
After years of negotiation, the snapper season gradually expanded and then in 2018, the current EFP was adopted — a huge win for Louisiana offshore anglers.
Under the EFP, participating anglers are allowed to fish red snapper in the state territorial seas and adjoining federal EEZ, from shore to 200 nautical miles during the season set by the LDWF Secretary or Commission.
NOAA Fisheries continued to police the season for federal charter boats. •