While state biologists finished dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on the final count through the summer-long red snapper season, recreational fishermen can pretty much count on more days to catch red snapper this fall.
“We’re waiting on the final numbers, but even with those numbers, given what we have, fishermen will have a great chance to have an extra weekend,” Wildlife and Fisheries’ assistant secretary for fisheries Patrick Banks said.
Banks was operating in caution mode Thursday. He’s being careful not to promise anything the department might not be able to deliver. He’s waiting on the final numbers for the private and state charterboat catch through Labor Day.
Through 15 weekend-only (Fridays through Sundays) weeks of the recreational red snapper season, state biologists working on the highly acclaimed LA Creel system have come up with a 758,024-pound total, some 58,415 pounds shy of the Louisiana’s 816,439-pound allowed limit for the current red snapper season.
On the surface, it appears recreational fishermen could get more than one week.
And Labor Day was holding up the process. While the four-days Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends were built into LA Creel’s model for this year, Labor Day was not.
By Friday, the final numbers were in: the recreational take stands at 765,205 pounds — 51,234 pounds shy of the allowed catch.
“The intention of the secretary (LDWF secretary Jack Montoucet) is to reopen the season,” Banks said. “He wants to use those remaining fish, and the staff is analyzing the data and appropriate catch rates to come up with an estimate of how long we can keep the season open.”
The Wildlife and Fisheries Commission gave Montoucet the authority to end the season whenever the recreational sector neared the state’s 816,439 pounds of red snapper. It was Montoucet who added Labor Day into the mix the week before summer’s last holiday. He also has the authority to reopen the season.
Wildlife and Fisheries Commission member Chad Courville said he’s waiting on the numbers, too.
“I don’t know about the commission, but we need to open a season. We can’t carry any remaining quota forward,” Courville said.
The explanation comes from the Exempted Fishing Permit the five Gulf states used for red snapper the past two years. Courville outlined the system, noting “any unharvested quota goes back into the pot,” to be divided among all five Gulf states.
“Whatever is left on the table gets gobbled up,” Courville said. “I cannot speak for rest of the commission, but I believe most everybody wants to use LA Creel to the max and get as close to our target as we can.”
Courville said the next commission meeting is set for Oct. 3, but said he believes a weekend-only season could open as early as Sept. 28.
“We don’t know the participation we will get after having a season, then closing it, then reopening it,” Courville said. “There are many more factors now, school, football, and people thinking about other things now that summer is gone.”
Courville complimented the staff, especially marine biologist Jason Adriance, for LA Creel work and said he expects to find hesitancy in announcing a given number of days for an extended fall snapper season.
“Jason has done a nice job comparing weather and landings, but it’s still a guess. If we get good weather, then small boats can access the fishery, but if it gets bumpy, it’s a different story,” Courville said.
“But that’s the purpose of last year and this year,” he said. “That’s the purpose of the EFP. It’s to gauge how anglers will react and respond to seasons.
“My preference? I’d like to see us just go a little over,” Courville said. “I’m not in favor of giving away any of Louisiana’s resources to other (Gulf of Mexico) states. They certainly are not standing in line to give it to us.
“And that’s not to imply going over is a mark against LA Creel, because it’s not. LA Creel is very accurate, and our biologists work hard to keep it that way.”
An angler's view
To say Rudy Valenciano is an ardent fishermen is selling him short. Catching snapper, whether red or mangroves, is a passion, one he’s passed along to his sons Marcus and Eric.
“They stopped the season way too early,” Valenciano said. “With an increased quota this year, the Wildlife and Fisheries stopped the season when we had 86 percent of the quota counted, and knowing tournaments were over and school was starting.”
Valenciano hit a note dozens of other offshore fishermen have been singing for three weeks, especially after an increase in 2019 allowed catch from the near 750,000 pounds the state had in 2018.
“At Labor Day, we knew there were plenty of red snapper left in the quota,” he said. “LA creel is getting the numbers right, but there are some questions about state charterboats.”
Valenciano looked at the LA Creel chart — it’s posted on the LDWF’s website: wlf.louisiana.gov — and noted an average state charterboat catch of 1,745 pounds through first 12 weekends. Then there was a spike to 14,487 pounds in the Aug. 16-18 weekend, then 16,262 pounds during the three days leading up to Labor Day.
It amounted to 30,749 for those six days, or 59 percent of the 51,983 pounds taken by state charters in the 15 weekends-only season.
There is an explanation: the recreational amberjack season opened Aug. 1 and charterboat operators were quick to announce to customers the opportunity to catch more than the allowed two red snapper per day.
The amberjack season runs through Oct. 31, and any additional red snapper days in the coming weeks would extend that offshore opportunity.