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There may be a mini-season for red snapper.

image: red snapper
A red snapper rises to the surface off the gunwale of Capt. Danny Juel’s Fish Screamer out of Little River. Submitted photo
Emergency action could allow limited red snapper season in 2017

By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News

Capt. Danny Juel was surprised what he found on a bottom spot located a little over 10 miles southeast of Little River Inlet in 60 feet of water on Tuesday.

Juel was running a half-day trip on the Hurricane, a 90-foot party boat, for his friend and Hurricane owner, Capt. Chip Stevens.

Black sea bass are the main species typically targeted on such a half-day trip, but on this day red snapper were holding on the bottom spot.

Yes, genuine American red snapper, as they’re called locally, on a spot in 60 feet of water. Juel’s customers caught and released four before he moved to another spot in search of a species that could be harvested.

Red snapper on a spot that shallow is a first for Juel, who has been fishing out of Little River for 35 years.

“They’ve never been in 60 feet of water here before,” said Juel. “We’re seeing them places we’ve never seen them before.”

In 2009, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined the South Atlantic red snapper stock was overfished and undergoing overfishing, and the fishery was closed in 2010 with a 35-year rebuilding plan put in place.

Other than short seasons allowed in 2012-2014, the red snapper fishery has been closed ever since and their numbers have grown, with only fish that have not survived the release process, known as dead discards, removed from the population.

In Juel’s view, the numbers of red snapper on bottom spots offshore have increased during the closure to where he considers them a problem.

“It’s unbelievable. We’re going out there not trying to catch them but if you put a big bait down to catch a grouper, the snappers are eating you alive,” said Juel, who operates Fish Screamer Charters out of Little River. “They’re almost becoming a nuisance. They’re more plentiful than the grouper and we can keep the grouper but not the snapper. Thirty-five to 40 miles out, anywhere you go, if you stop on a piece of bottom rock, there’s going to be a (red) snapper on it.”

There is potential good news for area fishermen, recreational and commercial, wanting to harvest red snapper.

NMFS is proposing temporary measures through an emergency action to allow a limited fishing season for the recreational and commercial sectors in 2017 in the South Atlantic region.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is addressing the issue on Sept. 11 as part of a regularly scheduled council meeting in Charleston.

A briefing book on the SAFMC website (www.SAFMC.net) regarding the emergency action cites “recently discovered and unforeseen data from the long-term Southeast Reef Fish Survey (SERFS) fishery independent index of abundance” that was presented to the SAFMC at a June meeting that spurred the proposal.

The data showed the red snapper population has increased substantially since 2014, reaching the highest levels to date in 2016.

The council will consider five alternatives, four of which would result in a mini-red snapper season this fall and one that would take no action and leave the fishery closed. As always, the council could decide to move on any of the five alternatives, or none.

At a June meeting, the SAFMC selected a preferred alternative out of the five options, one that would set a catch limit of 29,656 fish for recreational anglers and 124,815 pounds for the commercial sector.

“(The preferred alternative) provides access with a reasonable amount of risk (to the fishery),” said Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management within the Marine Resources Division of S.C. DNR, and one of three South Carolinians on the SAFMC.

“We’ve got to balance providing access to the fishery and taking a reasonable amount of risk. I think we could do that level and we wouldn’t harm the rebuild. We’re going to crack the faucet open some but not wide open.”

The public can comment on the red snapper issue before the council at the meeting starting at 10:15 a.m. on Sept. 11. Public comment is also currently being accepted online at http://safmc.net/2017-september-council-meeting/.

Juel’s opinion on the issue is representative of the vast majority of fishermen who have already commented on the SAFMC website.

“It’s been a wonderful thing, the comeback they’ve made,” said Juel. “Now, let us catch a few of them. We need to thin them out some. They’re just overpopulated right now.”
Amendment 43

This amendment is also on the SAFMC agenda for the meeting which will be held Sept. 11-15 at the Town and Country Inn located at 2008 Savannah Highway in Charleston.

The amendment will look at options for managing red snapper in 2018 and future years.
Spanish Mackerel Derby

The 7th Annual Spanish Mackerel Derby will be held out of the Mullet Hut in Murrells Inlet next weekend, Sept. 8-9, after being postponed last weekend.

First place is a $5,000 cash prize. The Captains Meeting will be held at the Mullet Hut Friday with fishing set for Saturday. For more information, call 843-602-0910.
Southern Redfish Cup

The tour will make a stop in Georgetown next weekend, Sept. 8-9. The Captains Meeting will be held at Buzz’s Roost on Friday with a live weigh-in set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Carroll Ashemore Campbell Marine Complex located on the Sampit River.

For more information visit www.SouthernRedfishCup.com.