Keep Florida Fishing® (KFF), an advocacy arm of the American Sportfishing Association, today welcomed the announcement by Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regarding the decision by NOAA Fisheries to grant an exempted fishing permit (EFP) to Florida to test state management of the red snapper fishery for private anglers during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. This pilot program will allow state managers to determine private recreational red snapper fishing regulations in both state and federal waters off the state’s coast. Similar EFPs have been approved for all the Gulf states.
Beginning Monday, June 11, Florida will have a 40-consecutive day private recreational season in Gulf waters. In addition to a state saltwater fishing license, Florida anglers will be required to register for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey through the FWC and are strongly encouraged to report their catches through the iAngler app to help improve the accuracy of recreational harvest data for the 2018 Gulf season.
“Empowering the state to manage the private recreational red snapper fishery will expand opportunities for Florida’s more than three million licensed anglers and support healthy and sustainable fisheries off our coast. Through innovative data collection methods for recreational harvest, anglers will be able to more accurately report their catches, thus providing valuable science-based data to inform management decisions here in Florida,” said Kellie Ralston, Florida Fisheries Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association.
“As the fishing capital of the world, Florida has a strong history of managing its own fisheries for the benefit of our angling community and the resource,” said Gary Jennings, Director of Keep Florida Fishing. “We appreciate the efforts of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to increase access to the red snapper fishery while maintaining conservation goals as we continue to advocate for clean waters, abundant fisheries, and access to both.”
Over the course of the last decade, recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico have paradoxically experienced decreasing access to red snapper despite increasing red snapper abundance. What was once a six-month season with a four-fish bag limit in 2007 was shrunk into a mere three-day, two-fish season in 2017.
The U.S. Department of Commerce announced it would increase the 2017 season by 39 weekend days last June as part of a historic agreement with the Gulf states to harmonize state and federal regulations. However, that decision was a temporary fix, necessitating the development of the 2018-2019 pilot program.
“Gulf red snapper management clearly isn’t working for the recreational fishing community, and we believe states are best suited to finally provide recreational fisherman and the businesses they support with reasonable and responsible access to the rapidly rebuilding Gulf red snapper fishery,” said Mike Leonard, Conservation Director of American Sportfishing Association. “A tremendous amount of challenging work, bolstered by a clear vision and cooperation among the Department of Commerce, Congress and the states led to this positive outcome and the sportfishing industry is very thankful for that.”
Development and approval of the Gulf states’ EFPs was facilitated by language from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill that directed NOAA Fisheries to develop the fishery management pilot program allowing states to manage Gulf red snapper.