June 17, 2024

Snapper Management in The Gulf Versus The South Atlantic – A Tale of The Haves and Have Nots

Article Contact: Chris Horton,

Why It Matters: Like in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf), red snapper are an extremely popular reef fish in the South Atlantic. Unfortunately, we’re stuck under a federal management paradigm that rewards a rapidly rebuilding red snapper population with fewer red snapper fishing opportunities. Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced a 1-day season for red snapper in 2024. Fortunately, we need only look to the precedent in the Gulf for a pathway to break out of this illogical spiral.


  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced last week that the 2024 red snapper season in the South Atlantic will span a total of one day.
  • The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) firmly believes the best opportunity for better red snapper management in the South Atlantic resides with the states, not NMFS.

Last week during the Snapper Grouper Subcommittee meeting at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, NMFS announced the much-anticipated news of the 2024 red snapper season from North Carolina to Florida, which is July 12th. That is the entire “season”. As the red snapper population becomes more abundant, recreational anglers in the South Atlantic continue to be penalized with fewer angling opportunities.

Apart from an inefficient commercial management model being applied to the recreational sector, the short red snapper season is due to NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program’s (MRIP) inability to estimate recreational dead discards, or fish that are thrown back and assumed to die when the season is closed the rest of the year. Many of the released fish survive, but a substantial portion do not and are counted towards the total available removals from the population each year. As the population grows, more red snapper are estimated by MRIP to be encountered by anglers, which results in high discard mortality estimates and a relatively low red snapper annual catch limit (ACL) available for harvest.

Ultimately, despite the highest population abundance ever recorded, the 2024 red snapper season in the South Atlantic will be measured in mere hours. Whereas, in the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to prior work by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and partners, the 2024 red snapper season will be measured in months for each of the states. The underlying reason for the highly disparate season structures is recreational landings data between the two regions. Recreational anglers in the Gulf were facing a similar melting point about a decade ago, so each state took charge and began developing their own recreational data collection program to supplement or replace MRIP, which was never intended for in-season management. Needless to say, the experiment was wildly successful.

Thus far, the only idea put forward in the South Atlantic Council by NOAA to address the recreational data uncertainty surrounding recreational landings is to implement a federal offshore permit (Amendment 46 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan). Anglers are hyper frustrated with federal management of red snapper and other species in the South Atlantic, so it seems unreasonable to ask them to buy a federal permit that few have confidence will get them out of the mess the federal fisheries management system has created in the first place.

At last week’s meeting, CSF’s Senior Director, Fisheries Policy Chris Horton again spoke to the illogical nature of the current management approach, as well as the futility of a federal permit, and urged NOAA to work with the South Atlantic states on finding a path forward with the states in the lead. The famous quote regarding the definition of insanity seems to sum up red snapper management in the region. We must do something different, and the best path for a successful outcome simply resides with the states.

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