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Anglers seek snapper season
Glynn County angler Pate Hall wishes he could keep the red snapper he often hauls in while fishing during grouper season off the coast of Glynn County.

For the past several years, though, red snapper have been off limits for anglers in the Atlantic Ocean, from North Carolina to Florida, because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, considers the species to be overfished.

Hall doesn't understand. From what he's seen, red snapper numbers are just fine.

In some instances, in fact, he says he and his fishing buddies, while targeting grouper, have reeled in six or seven red snapper for every grouper they caught. As anglers who follow fishing regulations, Hall must release all his red snapper catches.

"I think everybody would love to catch and keep them," Hall said.

If a proposal by NOAA's South Atlantic Fisheries Council to open a very short red snapper season for the second year in a row is approved, Hall may have a few weekends this summer to keep one red snapper a day.

Last year, the season was open for two weekends, and Hall did not get a chance to make a trip.

The proposed season this year, on which the council is seeking public comment until May 13, would begin on the second Friday in July, run through the following Sunday and repeat again during subsequent weekends. The season's end would be announced when the opening dates are determined.

The proposal also includes plans for an annual process to determine if a season will occur based on if the total catch during the previous year's snapper season was below what the council deems acceptable for the population.

Last year's data is still being analyzed, but preliminary findings show a season may be in store for anglers this year, according to Rick DeVictor of NOAA's sustainable fisheries division at St. Petersburg, Fla.

What the future holds for red snapper fishing in the Atlantic Ocean is hard to say, DeVictor said.

"We are in uncharted territory," DeVictor said. "We are dealing with an overfished species."

Gathering reliable data on just how many red snapper are in the ocean compared to how many die due to bycatch or are kept illegally is difficult, he said.

DeVictor hopes opening more regularly annual seasons will allow scientists to collect more reliable data on how well the stock is rebuilding while also allowing anglers a chance to keep the sought- after fish.

Hall said he understands the difficulty in collecting data on one species of fish in a large ocean.

He hopes regular red snapper seasons are opened during a time when the fish are accessible to all anglers, not just those with boats large enough to go far offshore.

Hall's lament is: "Last year the water was too rough and it was too windy for me to get out there," he said.

* Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, environment and other local topics. Contact him at mhall@thebrunswick, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.

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