After years of waiting, anglers will be allowed to catch — and you’ll be able to eat — South Carolina red snapper again.
At a meeting Monday, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted 12-1 to open a limited 2017 red snapper fishing season and a limited 2018 season from North Carolina to east Florida and the Florida Keys.
Recreational fishing, which will be limited to one fish per trip, is expected to open for six to 12 days starting in October or November. Commercial fishing should be open until the end of the year with a 75-pound catch limit per trip.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will determine exact dates in the coming weeks.
The 2018 recreational red snapper season is expected to last about four to seven days starting in early July. Commercial fishermen will get approximately a 75-pound catch limit per trip for the season.
“We’ve consistently heard from our constituents about the increasing number of red snapper encountered and concerns that harvest has been prohibited for the past four years,” council chairwoman Dr. Michelle Duval said in a news release. “The majority of comments support allowing a limited harvest of red snapper.”
The rate of harvest in 2017 will determine the length of the 2018 red snapper season, Duval said in a news release.
“It is imperative that fishermen do everything possible to minimize the number of red snapper released during the season openings and use best fishing practices to improve the survival of released fish,” Duval said in the release. “We must be cautionary in balancing access to the fishery without negatively impacting the sacrifices made thus far as this important stock continues to rebuild.”
After data showed that the red snapper population in the South Atlantic was in danger, harvesting of the fish was closed from 2010 to 2017 — except for short seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
In June, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council was presented with new data from the long-term Southeast Reef Fish Survey, which indicated that the red snapper population has increased substantially since 2014.
Leda Cunningham, manager of ocean conservation in the U.S. South Atlantic for The Pew Charitable Trusts, believes Monday’s decision was “a blow to science-based management.”
“We are concerned that the council is reopening fishing for South Atlantic red snapper without scientific review at a time when a science-based plan for its recovery appears to be working,” she said. “Even with limits on how many can be caught, this is a risky move that sets a dangerous precedent. It could jeopardize red snapper recovery and the opportunity for future fishing seasons.”