Bad weather that granted Lowcountry anglers with a third weekend to catch red snapper may again keep those anglers from being able to bring back the sought-after fish.
A third weekend-long “miniseason” for red snapper will open Friday through Sunday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week.
The weather for the weekend, however, does not look promising.
Hilton Head Island is expected to be cloudy and windy on Friday with highs between 50 and 55 degrees with a 50 percent chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service in Charleston.
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Bill Parker, Captain of Runaway Fishing Charters on Hilton Head, has a charter of four booked for Saturday but already expects he might have to cancel the trip.
“It looks like the charter on Saturday will not be going out because of windy weather,” Parker said. “This time of year there’s only about a 30 percent chance you can actually get off-shore.”
Anglers who are looking forward to the harvest this weekend are familiar with the disappointment.
Bad weather during this year’s second “miniseason,” Nov. 10-12, kept many anglers and charters from going out at the time. According to NOAA, that was the reason the 2017 recreational catch limit for red snapper, 29,656 fish, was not reached.
“Preliminary estimates of recreational harvest indicate that the catch limit has not been caught, likely due to inclement weather. Harvest projections show that an additional three-day opening for red snapper by the recreational sector would not result in harvest exceeding the 2017 recreational catch limit,” NOAA said in a bulletin on Friday.
According to the NOAA representatives, if bad weather prevents anglers from partaking in this weekend’s “miniseason,” there will not be sufficient time to have another weekend opening for red snapper in 2017.
Harvesting of red snapper was closed from 2010 to 2017 — except for short seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014 — after scientists found that the fish population in the South Atlantic was in danger.
After years of waiting, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council determined earlier this year that the population had rebounded. In late September, the council voted to again open the red snapper fishing season for two weekend-long “miniseasons.”
Michael Perry, owner-operator of Papa Bear Charters on Hilton Head, went out the first weekend and said the catch was “fabulous.”
“There’s no more or less (red snapper than there was before the harvest season was closed years ago),” Perry said. “Our fishery here has always been healthy, in my humble opinion.”
Perry said that reopening of the recreational fishing season has been a long time coming for him and most other local charter captains.
“It’s definitely affected the charter business by not being able to catch red snapper,” Perry said. “Certain times of the year — especially in the summer — once cobia and grouper move out, snapper are around all year long. To be able to take some charters out and harvest some of those fish again was great.”
The recreational bag limit is one fish per person per day, and there is no minimum size limit. The commercial season will close Dec. 31.
Depending on the data collected during the “miniseasons” this year, NOAA is expected to open a longer season starting the second Friday of July 2018.
In the meantime, local anglers remain hopeful that they’ll have more opportunities to catch the tasty fish again soon.
“They (the Fishery Management Council members) do realize now that the stock has come back. There’s no denying that,” Parker said. “I guess in the long run it (the years of red snapper season closures) was a good thing, so our children and grandchildren will have some red snapper to fish for, too.”