ALOT OF PEOPLE THINK April is a magical month. Anglers are checking their boats, motors, and trailers to make sure everything is ready to go.
Fishing reels are cleaned, new line is put on reels. Contents of tackle bags and boxes is checked to see whether some favorite lure needs to be replaced or to replenish your hook selection.
April is also the time of the year when many mid-coast anglers go over the side of the boat and wade. Start out early, and look for bait activity. Grass beds in Aransas, Redfish Bay and the other bays that make up the Port Aransas area are always good areas to seek out a redfish.
“We will get on top of those grass beds early, up close to the shoreline, throwing topwaters, keying on bait,” said Tommy Countz who knows the coast from Matagorda to Baffin.
April is also the month when anglers venturing off shore fishing for red snapper in federal waters could earn a bounty for the fish they catch.
When the red snapper season begins this summer in the Gulf of Mexico, some fish will carry $250 and even $500 worth of tags. This is part of a study to estimate just how many of the popular sport and table fish live in the Gulf. The fish can be released if the tags are snipped off.
“Scientists plan to tag 3,000 to 5,000 red snappers during April and May,” said Greg Stunz of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He is leading a team of 21 scientists from the five Gulf States and Virginia. Some will use university research boats, but others will go out with anglers, charter captains and commercial boats. Researchers hope to get tags back from all three fishing groups.
Each tag will be worth $250. Some fish will carry two tags, to help scientists learn how many of the tags fall out. Those are potential $500 fish. The tubular tags are about four to five inches long and a couple of millimeters wide.
Each tag has a yellow plastic insert bearing a five-digit tag number starting with the letters RS, the words “Reward $250. Keep tag” and a phone number to call. To get the reward, anglers need to report the fishing port from which they departed, the date the fish was caught, the fish’s length and weight; the fish’s tag number, and the latitude and longitude where it was caught.
The tag itself should also be mailed in, though Stunz said the researchers might accept photographs.
The purpose is to check the accuracy of federal red snapper figures. “Scientists expect about 10 percent of the tagged fish to be caught,” said Stunz. The $12 million study called the Great Red Snapper Count also involves visual counts, habitat surveys, and other studies. “We’ll be wrapped up in about a year,” Stunz said.
Overfishing and incidental catch in shrimp trawls caused red snapper numbers to plummet disastrously from the 1960s to late 1980s. Since federal regulation of the catch began in 1990, numbers have rebounded. But in recent years the recreational season got shorter and shorter. Many anglers said federal estimates are too low and seasons too short.
The problem, according to NOAA Fisheries, was that recreational anglers regularly caught far more than the quotas set by the Gulf Coast Fishery Management Council. An overage for one season meant fewer days for the next. State agencies said NOAA was using bad data.
In response, the Trump administration extended a three-day federal season in 2017 for an additional 39 weekend days, and in 2018 created a two-year experiment in which states would open and close their recreational seasons. Two environmental groups sued in 2017, saying the change to that season would result in overfishing.
The study is funded by $9.5 million allocated by Congress. The universities involved are putting up another $2.5 million, and a team of 21 scientists are participating. Most are from Gulf state universities.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science is also part of the study, along with a scientist from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Three NOAA Fisheries scientists are described as non-compensated collaborators.
Seeing red could mean money. The start of the summer fishing season is also the time of the popular annual CCA State of Texas Anglers’ Rodeo—Star Tournament.
Make this note on your calendars: “Check for tags beginning in April and through the summer months.” The results of the red snapper study will not be available for a while, but I hope it will alleviate some of the controversy around limits and season lengths for the red snapper.
Email Tom Behrens at [email protected]