Gulf Red Snapper Season 2023
Since the Harte Research Institute reported last year that there are tons of red snapper age two or more in the Gulf of Mexico, previously overlooked by federal fishery managers, Gulf Coast anglers have chomped at the bit for the possibility of more relaxed bag limits and a longer gulf red snapper season 2023.
We’re getting a tiny taste of relief in some states this year—and the opposite in others.
NOAA has increased the total annual catch limit by 300,000 pounds to 15.4 million pounds for 2023, and the overfishing limit from 15.5 million pounds to 25.6 million pounds.
Of the annual catch limit, the share dedicated to commercial fishermen will move from 7.7 million pounds to 7.854 million pounds, representing 51 percent of the catch limit, and the recreational share will increase from 7.399 million pounds to 7.546 million pounds, or 49 percent of the total limit. Charter fishermen will receive 42 percent of the recreational catch limit, or 3.192 million pounds.
Under the new limits, Alabama will be allowed to catch 558,200 pounds, Florida will receive 2.069 million pounds, Louisiana gets 882,000 pounds, Mississippi gets 59,000 pounds, and Texas gets 270,000 pounds whole-weight equivalent.
Alabama is particularly impacted by the new regulations because NOAA says the state’s anglers “overharvested” the resource the last several years, according to their formula for counting the fish taken. In 2020, Alabama’s quota for private anglers was 1.122 million pounds, and 1.145 Million in 2021, so the cut this year is dramatic, to say the least
Colonel Scott Bannon, Director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division, calls the 2023 allocation unfair and based on faulty data.
“Alabama and Mississippi both have very accurate reporting systems, and we feel the harvest estimates from NOAA are inflated and unreasonable,” Bannon said. “Utilizing the abundance estimates we receive from the University of South Alabama each year, nearly 25% of the red snapper that occur off Alabama live among artificial reefs, and we think our red snapper stock is continuing to replenish itself at a sustainable rate. We feel very strongly that in the Alabama reef zone the stock is very stable. Recruitment is good as there are enough young fish moving up through the reef system.”
Bannon also said the quota could see some adjustment during the season, depending on reported catches.
“While I am disappointed that we are having the Alabama quota reduced, it is not the end of the world. We will potentially see an increase during the season from 558,200 pounds to 591,185 pounds and we are working through the Gulf Council process to adjust the calibration ratio to one that is more favorable to our anglers,” Bannon said.
“That change may occur before the end of the year. We encourage anglers to fish on the days that work well for them based on their schedules and weather and we will fish through the summer based on the four-day weekend, Friday through Monday. Our fishing season begins Friday, May 26. I would like to remind anglers that reporting their red snapper, greater amberjack and gray triggerfish catch through the digital Snapper Check program and participating in our dockside surveys are vital to our effort to provide the best access possible.”
The reduced harvest for Alabama will severely impact marinas, tackle shops, coastal motels and other businesses depending on the recreational snapper anglers that flood the coast during the annual seasons, but apparently there’s not much help for it this time around.
NOAA ceded some control of the fishery to the states under Amendment 50, which was adopted in 2019. This has allowed the states to choose when recreational anglers will fish and what the state waters limits will be, which permits more convenience for anglers who can choose their fishing days rather than participating in a brief “gold rush” type fishery which may close within a few days of opening, and also avoids open seasons coming on unfishable days.
If the set summer days happen to fall during a hurricane period, for example, there would be no harvest under the gold rush system, while a more adjustable season basis allows states to set the dates that work best for their anglers.
The average size of individual fish in the catch is sure to decline as the large fish that grew up during the years of virtually closed seasons are harvested, but the overall mass of adult or spawning age fish does not appear to have declined, anglers and local scientists say. So, while the 20 pound red snapper may become very hard to find, the harvestable 8 pounders remain abundant.
A 16-inch fish could be anywhere between two and seven years old, a 24-inch fish could be three to nine years old, and a 32-inch could be from 5 to over 35 years old, scientists say.
Obviously, there are going to be fewer 32” fish in a hard-fished population, but that doesn’t mean the population is not healthy in terms of long term production of adult fish. A 16” fish may weigh only three pounds, but there are many, many five to eight pounders caught regularly.
The IGFA world-record red snapper, caught off Grand Isle, Louisiana in 1996, weighed 50 pounds, 4 ounces. Scientists said it was slightly less than 20 years old—nowhere near the max for the species, proving habitat trumps longevity for the species’ growth.
Both sexes grow relatively rapidly and at the same rate until about 8 years old and 28 inches in length. At age 25 males average a bit less than 36 inches, females 38 inches. Very little growth occurs after age 25, even out to over 50 years of age, scientists say.
Red Snapper Regulations
The DESCEND Act, which went into effect on January 13, 2022, requires anglers to have a venting tool or descending device onboard while reef fishing in federal waters of the Gulf. By law, any anglers fishing for reef fish like snapper in the Gulf of Mexico must now carry aboard and make use of venting or descending devices aimed at improving survival. Read more about the requirements for this law and how you can get a free descending device here.
Red Snapper Season 2023 Limits By State
Alabama: Alabama snapper season opens Friday, May 26, 2023 for private and state-licensed charters. Fishing will only be allowed on four-day weekends (Friday through Monday), and will continue until the private angler quota is reached. The season for anglers fishing from federally-permitted charter boats will be announced by NOAA Fisheries in the near future. The Alabama red snapper bag limit is 2 fish per angler at 16 inches minimum length.
Florida: Florida snapper season opens June 16, 2023 and will run consecutively through July 31, 2023. The season will reopen in the fall for 3-day weekends during October and November (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). The Florida daily red snapper bag limit is 2 fish per angler at 16 inches minimum length.
Louisiana: The 2023 private recreational Red Snapper season will begin on Friday, May 26, 2023, in both state and federal waters. The season will run 7 days a week with a daily bag limit of three fish per person and a 16-inch total minimum length limit. The season will remain open until recreational landings approach or reach Louisiana’s annual private recreational allocation of 934,587 pounds while attempting to preserve enough allocation for the Labor Day weekend.
Mississippi: Mississippi red snapper season will reopen for private recreational anglers and state for-hire vessels seven days a week beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 26, 2023, and will close once the annual catch limit (ACL) is projected to be met. The Mississippi red snapper bag limit is 2 fish per angler at 16 inches minimum length.
Texas: State waters opened last year January 1st. The state’s federal waters opened June 1 and closed September 2. Daily bag limits are set at 4 fish per person in state waters and 2 fish per person in federal waters for red snapper season in Texas.
How To Catch Red Snapper
Red snapper are nearly always found near bottom structure, but usually hang well above it, sometimes forming the legendary “Christmas tree” image on sonar. With good sonar imaging, it’s possible to watch your bait drop to just above the fish, hold it there, and start cranking when one takes hold. (Just don’t drop the bait through the school—they almost never go down to get it.)
While “keeper” size snapper will grab anything from a jumbo shrimp to a squid strip, fish eight pounds and up are much easier to catch on live baits like pinfish, scaled sardines, threadfins and menhaden in the four to five inch range.
Remember you MUST use only non-stainless steel circle hooks for red snapper and all other reef species. Hook sizes of 6/0 to 10/0 are preferred, depending on the size of red snapper you target. (For nearshore fish just over the minimum size limit, most anglers use smaller hooks, typically 5/0 to as small as 3/0.) You must also have a venting tool or descending device aboard to assist in successful release of unwanted fish.
Most anglers use either a knocker rig, with the weight separated from the hook only by a bead to protect the knot, or a Carolina rig, with the weight above a leader three to four feet long. The latter is better in clear water or where the fish are picky. Weights from three to eight ounces are typical, depending on depth and current—use enough to get down to just above the fish quickly.
Leaders as light as 30-pound test are good inshore, while offshore most use 60 or heavier.
Thirty-pound-test tackle is adequate for inshore fish and gets more bites than heavier gear, but of course you never know when a giant might latch on so most anglers opt for 50-pound-test gear or more, particularly as they move farther offshore.
For anglers who have larger boats and are willing to run, the bigger red snapper are usually more than 30 miles offshore where pressure drops off. (If you have a spot-lock type trolling motor on your bow, you have a huge advantage offshore because you can easily stay on the fish without handling hundreds of feet of anchor line.)
Keeper red snapper are frequently found on modest relief bottoms, that is on small rock piles or other structure that may stick up only a couple feet from bottom. This is probably not because that’s their preferred habitat but because all the large fish on the more obvious bottom get caught out. The smaller structures are harder to see unless you have a sharp eye and big-screen sonar, plus the willingness to invest hours in prospecting.
Red snapper season 2023 looks promising, even for the states with reduced limits, so if you’re in the mood for a red snapper dinner—and who isn’t?—head to the Gulf Coast the last week of May and you’ll soon be firing up the grill.
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