The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) will close red snapper fishing in state water November 15. In January 2022, TPWD will reopen red snapper fishing in state waters while federal water will remain closed until the summer.
Under an agreement between TPWD and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), TPWD can establish the opening and closing dates of the annual red snapper fishery in federal waters while also continuing to manage red snapper fishing in state water. As part of this agreement, however, Texas must close the entire fishery when the state’s allotted poundage is reached for the year. Traditionally, TPWD has provided for a year-round red snapper fishing season in state waters and a limited red snapper fishing season in federal waters that begins in June and closes after a certain number of days. The length of the season in federal waters has been calculated to allow for a year-round season in state waters while remaining under the allotted annual catch limit applied to landings from state and federal waters combined.
In 2019, Texas anglers took advantage of unusually calm offshore conditions in early June and caught red snapper at a higher rate than the year before. TPWD, in fact, closed the federal season earlier than had originally been predicted, but then allowed state waters to remain open.
Unfortunately, in August of 2020 NMFS notified Texas that they believed Texas had exceeded the annual catch limit in 2019. Upon finalization and extensive review of all the data collected, it was determined that Texas exceeded its allotted poundage, by approximately 62,000 lbs.
As a condition of the agreement whereby states have more control to set seasons for the private recreational fishery in their state, the red snapper pounds that exceeded the annual catch limit must be paid back. In 2020, Texas filed a lawsuit challenging NMFS’ implementation of a payback to address an overage of the Texas catch limit from 2019 until all of the differences in calculation and any other issues that caused the differences could be determined.
For 2020 and beyond, TPWD has attempted to streamline, further automate and alter some of the reporting processes to prevent any future data issues that had occurred in 2019. TPWD will continue to work with NMFS to ensure that both entities are using the same approach to calculate landing estimates so there will not be future discrepancies in the calculations.
“Last year, TPWD challenged the rule and methodology NMFS used to calculate the amount of red snapper landed by private anglers in Texas,” said Robin Riechers, TPWD’s Coastal Fisheries Division Director. “While we were trying to determine and resolve the differences in TPWD and NMFS estimates, we allowed Texas anglers to fish for red snapper. Per our agreement with NMFS it is now the time for us to address those overages in order to preserve as many days as we can for red snapper fishing in 2022.”
Results from the Harte Research Institute’s The Great Red Snapper Count estimate there are 22 million red snapper in state and federal waters off of Texas and 118 million in the Gulf of Mexico. This study provided an overall abundance estimate as opposed to the previous estimate of approximately 36 million red snapper in the Gulf. This finding certainly helps to support that red snapper abundance off of Texas is robust and supports what many anglers have been telling us.
“Moving forward, TPWD hopes that the Gulf Council will utilize the results from The Great Red Snapper Count to better manage and sustain red snapper populations in Texas,” said Carter Smith, Executive Director of TPWD. “While we are disappointed that we have to close state waters this year, we continue to support the state-based management and stewardship of red snapper and to provide as many fishing opportunities as possible to anglers without adversely impacting this important fishery.”