The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council does not set the red snapper season length. Season length is calculated by scientists from National Marine Fisheries Service and is based on landings from previous fishing years. The Council does decide on regulations such as size limits, season openings, and allocation among the different components of the fishery, but the amount of time it will take to harvest the annual catch target of any fish is not a political decision, it’s a scientifically based calculation.
This year’s Gulf-wide red snapper recreational annual catch target is 5,753,600 pounds. The private recreational red snapper quota is 3,319,827 pounds and the federal for-hire red snapper quota is 2,433,773 pounds.
Let’s take a look at how the season length is calculated..
To estimate how many days it will take to harvest the annual catch target, scientists use catch rates and average fish size from previous years to project what will happen this year. In fact, 10 different scenarios, or models, are used to make the prediction. Five of the models use catch rates and average weights from recent years and simply apply them directly to this year. The other five scenarios are based on regression models that forecast catch rates and average weights based on historical trends. All the projection scenarios incorporate the differences by state or region (i.e., eastern and western Gulf) and differences between mode of fishing (i.e. private and for-hire).
The results of these models are applied directly to the federally permitted charter for-hire component of the fishery. The resulting 2016 projected for-hire red snapper season is 46 days (range: 38-56 days).
The private recreational season calculation is a bit more complicated. Fish that are harvested in state waters count against the federal quota, so the private recreational red snapper quota must be reduced by the amount of fish harvested during the state seasons. (The federal for-hire quota is not reduced by the state water season because federally permitted vessels are not allowed to fish state seasons so, there are no state season fish harvested by federally permitted vessels.)
This year, the effect that state seasons have on the federal private recreational season length will be greater because Florida is proposing a state season that is 8 days longer than last year, and the state waters in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were extended from 3 to 9 nautical miles for the purposes of red snapper management. Without historical data on how extended state waters will change things, scientists are forced to make assumptions oh how the changes will affect landings. To calculate this year’s private recreational red snapper season length scientists examined the impacts of increases in state water catch rates on federal private season length and
projected a Gulf-wide 2016 federal private recreational red snapper season of 9 days (range: 6-9 days).