NOAA Fisheries Gives Gulf Anglers More Access To Fish

Photo Courtesy of Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

NOAA Fisheries Setting Gulf Recreational Fishing Seasons, Giving Anglers More Access To Fish.

For the first time since the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act (MSA) was reauthorized in 2006, and the national recreational fishing policy was created in 2015,  NOAA fisheries is living up to their promise to be more friendly toward recreational anglers.

Even though the often controversial management decisions have always been controlled by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and its 17 voting members, they have faced much criticism for the past 12 years from recreational angler, commercial, charter for hire and conservation groups for the gridlock they have placed on recreational fisheries in an effort to keep anglers under their respective quotas.  The controversy has mostly been caused of the federal law requirement which is strict Annual Catch Limits (ACL’s) on federally managed species like red snapper, triggerfish and greater amberjack.  Now, the council recently has been thinking outside the box and now doing more to offer some flexibility to strong fishing regulations for recreational anglers by changing some of the annual allocation start dates.

For instance,  recreational fishing seasons on species such as Gray Triggerfish and Greater Amberjack are now becoming more stabilized in the northern Gulf of Mexico due to NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf Councils flexibility in setting seasons and allocation distribution, which is giving recreational anglers in the northern gulf, more access to the fish.   You can read about what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico Fishing Seasons page of NOAA’s website and fishery bulletins.

The new Gulf of Mexico fishing seasons will be announced shortly, but we have some inside scoop on the dates and wanted to share them with you.  When they are announced, we will update this page so you will know what to expect.  This is good news for recreational anglers and those charter boats operators like ourselves who depend on having “something to catch” all year long.   Even though fishery managers have not solved all of the details on how best to manage gulf red snapper, they are at least working on solutions that still meet the strict requirements and confines that are held together by the  fishery conservation measures in place within the MSA.

Greater Amberjack will reportedly open May 1, 2018 and close sometime in the latter part of May.  Then the season will close during June and July (normal closure) and reopen August 1 with a whole new annual allocation of fish.  The season should remain open during the months of August, September and October 2018.   The season will close at the end of October and will remain closed until the following May.   If recreational anglers did not use up their annual allocation during the previous August, September and October season, the remaining amount of the quota will be available to catch in May 2019.   Changing the season allocations to August is a huge step for NOAA Fisheries who has historically managed species from January to December each year.   This is a good thing for northern gulf anglers.  The minimum size is 34″ and the bag limit is 1 fish per person.  These fish can be caught on 10-12 hour trips or longer.

Gray Triggerfish is scheduled to open on March 1, 2018 and remain open through the end of April.   The season will close for the remainder of the calendar year, unless the landing data said we didn’t go over our annual allocation, then and only then, we POSSIBLY may get a few days in the fall.  But, since the quota is so small anyway, don’t count on a fall season.  The bag limit is 1 fish per person and there is a size limit of 15″ fork length.  These fish can be caught on 5 hour trips or longer.

Gag Grouper is closed until June 1.  The bag limit is 2 per person and the size is 24″ total length.  These fish can be caught on 10-12 hour trips or longer out of Orange Beach.

Cobia season is open year round, but they are only here in our waters from late March to the end of October each year or until they migrate southward toward the Florida keys.   The bag limit is 2 per person, but that is changing sometime soon.  The size limit is currently 33″ fork length.  The state of Florida has already implemented a 34″ fork length and a 1 fish bag limit due to over fishing.  We will see what Alabama does.

Recreational red snapper is divided into two separate quotas.  We have the charter for hire quota (what we charter boats take our customers to catch) and there is the private recreational anglers who own their own boats or don’t fish for hire.  I will explain a little about what is going on below.

Red Snapper Season for the Charter For Hire Fleet will open on June 1, 2018 and should remain open for 45 to 50 days.  We do not know exactly how long the season will remain open.  If planning your trip, you should be safe anywhere from June 1 to about July 15.  If anything changes in the season, we will let you know.  The bag limit is 2 per person and the minimum size is 16″ total length.  Captain and crew may not retain a bag limit.   These fish can be caught on 5 hour trips or longer.

Red Snapper Season for the Private Recreational anglers (those who fish from their own boat) for federal waters is a huge mess.   Currently, each of the five gulf states have  introduced their respective versions of what is known as an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) at the January/February meeting of the Gulf Council in New Orleans.  These permits were approved by NOAA Fisheries the first week in April, 2018.   The anglers who own their own boats for fish with buddies, will have a federal red snapper season.   Alabama will have a 47 day season with weekends only from Memorial Day through Labor Day for the 2018/2019 seasons.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has done a good job recently, getting fishing seasons and bag limits for Orange Beach Anglers more access to the fish.  Even though the regulations must adhere to the strong conservation measures such as Annual Catch Limits (ACL’s), they have found some wiggle room in the start dates of each season.

One of the biggest problems was, anglers in the northern gulf like the panhandle of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas anglers have long been penalized for fish that were reportedly caught during the months of January and February each year, which in turn, caused popular fish species like gray triggerfish and greater amberjack seasons to close early in the northern gulf, before anyone on our coast could catch any.