The line on linesiders

Winter 2010 will be remembered as one of Florida's worst and the potential long-term effects are evident in the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's recent move to temporarily extend an emergency closure of snook harvest and possession through Sept. 16. Considering the estimated hundreds of thousands of snook killed by an extended freeze, this in unquestionably a wise move.

The temporary extension, in effect until 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, will enable FWC Commissioners to hear a report by staff at their Sept. 1-3 meeting at Pensacola Beach. They will review the latest information on the status of the snook population, receive public input and determine whether to reopen the fall harvest season or continue to prohibit harvest and possession as a precautionary measure.

Each year, snook season closes Dec. to Feb. on the Gulf Coast and Dec. 15 to Jan. 31 on the East Coast to protect linesiders during their winter aggregations in the easily accessible retreats of coastal creeks, rivers and canals. On Jan. 16, shortly after this year's freeze, the FWC enacted Executive Order 10-39, which extended the closure through August 31 statewide to allow surviving snook several months to regroup and conduct their summer spawn with minimal fishing pressure (catch and release remains legal year-round).

"We took immediate action to prohibit harvest of snook as a proactive, precautionary response to the freeze. We want to make sure that if we reopen the fishery, we will be able to do it knowing the snook population is secure and will continue to rebound from the effects of that unprecedented cold snap," FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said. "Snook is one of Florida's premier game fish species. Anglers expect us to manage them carefully, and we will."

As stated in the FWC's announcement, while the temporary harvest prohibition remains in effect, no person may harvest or possess snook in state or federal waters off Florida. The FWC may reopen the fishery, if warranted, before the order expires or, if necessary, the agency may extend the closure by issuing another executive order.

On Sept. 2, during the meeting in Pensacola Beach, Commissioners will hear a report on the extent of damage to the snook population and consider a range of management options covering the next 12 months.

Feds consider reopening Gulf red snapper

There's really no silver lining to the dark cloud cast over the Gulf of Mexico by the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster. This was a bad deal all the way around. However, the vast federal fisheries closures necessitated by the oil spill may deliver a peripheral benefit to anglers by way of an extended red snapper season.

In the proverbial nutshell: This spring, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council increased the overall red snapper quota from 5.0 million pounds to 6.945 million pounds. Due to its data on increased catch rates and average red snapper size, the Gulf Council projected that the quota would be filled sooner in 2010 than in 2009, so this year's season was set for only 53 days (June 1-July 23). Those calculations likely did not play out as projected because the oil-related closures significantly reduced fishing effort in the Northern Gulf where the largest densities of red snapper reside.

In light of this situation, the Gulf Council requested that NOAA Fisheries Service institute rulemaking to reopen the recreational red snapper season later this year — after September 30 — if it is determined that the 2010 quota was not filled before the fishery closed on July 24. NOAA Fisheries Service is in the process of calculating the landings data to make that determination. If the recreational quota was not filled, the season may reopen for a period of time to allow the harvest of the remaining red snapper quota.

During the Council's August 16- 20 meeting in Pensacola, Florida, NOAA Fisheries Service will provide the Gulf Council with updated information on areas cleared for reopening, along with the amount of remaining recreational red snapper quota, and the projected length of any supplemental season. The length of the supplemental season would depend on the amount of quota remaining, the time of year the season reopens, and the amount of federal waters that are open at that time.

The Gulf Council is seeking input from the public on when — between September 30 and December 31 — the season should reopen. Those interested can submit comments by e-mail to: gulfcouncil@gulfcouncil.org, Include "RED SNAPPER SEASON" in the subject line. Comments will also be accepted by U.S. mail to: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, 2203 N. Lois Avenue, Suite 1100, Tampa, FL 33607. Comments may also be submitted during the public testimony portion of the Council's August meeting in Pensacola, Florida. The agenda for that meeting is available at www.gulfcouncil.org.