Waking before the sun comes up, John Blouse sets sail traveling over 50 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, scouting for red snapper.
Growing up near the water as a child, Blouse dreamed of making a living by spending his days on the open seas. As an owner of Hookedup Charters in Cedar Key, his calloused hands and sunburned neck are sentiments to his success.
“I made it happen,” he said.
Red snapper season was divided on June 1 into two recreational sectors for the first time. Amendment 40 of the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan extended the season five extra weeks for charter captains like Blouse.
Blouse, 49, said an extended season helps make the dream a reality by providing more opportunities to take clients out for red snapper fishing.
The recreational sector is divided into federal for-hire charter captains, who guide clients and help them locate fish, and private recreational fishermen, who have current fishing licenses.
Both seasons started on June 1 at 12:01 a.m., but the season for private recreational anglers is shorter, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, lasting only 10 consecutive days. The season for charter captains lasts until July 14.
Blouse said he sympathizes with the private fishermen who only have until 12:01 a.m. on June 11 to catch and keep red snapper.
Private fishermen and federal for-hire charters have shared the same season and quotas in past years, said Charlene Ponce, public information officer for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
The sector separation concept began making waves about seven years ago.
“The concept was brought to the council through a grassroots effort by charter-for-hire fishermen,” Ponce said.
After the for-hire charter captains advocated that they should not be categorized the same as private fishermen, the effort passed and will apply to all Gulf Reef fish for three years.
A Challenge For Recreational Fishermen
Red snapper are found in the Gulf of Mexico at about 60 feet or deeper, Blouse said.
Those trips are not easy to make for north central Florida fishermen.
Recreational anglers can be out for the season if seas are too rough.
“When they only give us 10 days, you’re not going to travel 50 miles offshore unless the seas are kind of calm,” Blouse said. “So, if the window of opportunity you have is very limited, some years you can’t even go.”
Blouse said he would be upset if he were a recreational fisherman because most of his clients can only fish on the weekends. He said the season should not consist solely of consecutive days.
“Give them five days consecutively and three weekends,” he said. “That way, you have a whole month of looking at seas and finding a time when you can go other than just one week out of the year.”
With another short season underway, some central Florida recreational fishermen are voicing the same frustration.
For John King, branch manager at City Electric Supply in Chiefland, 10 days is not enough.
King grew up in Ocala and currently lives in Dunnellon, Florida. He has had a rod and reel in hand for as long as he can remember. The smell of freshly caught fish and the thrill of a tug on the end of a line makes him excited to get out on his boat.
“I wait all year long for this,” he said. “Then, all we get is 10 days.”
King said if charter captains can have a longer season then there should be enough red snapper to support a few more days for recreational fishermen.
When fishermen spend thousands of dollars on boats and fuel, two fish per day for only 10 days is not enough, he said.
“When you work full time, you basically have one weekend to get out there,” King said. “And if the weather is bad or you can’t get the time off, you have to wait another year to try again.”
Red Snapper Population Thriving
Charlene Ponce, spokesperson for the Gulf Council, said seasons remain short because the red snapper populations are growing, causing fishing trips to be more successful and quotas to be reached faster.
“The population is indeed thriving,” she said. “In 2008, the total red snapper quota was five million pounds. Today, it is 14.30 million pounds, which is higher than it’s ever been.”
Ponce said the more fish there are, the easier they are to catch. An increase in technology, such as GPS, has contributed to quotas being reached faster, causing seasons to remain short.
“Anglers are catching more pounds of fish per trip,” Ponce said. “Since fish quotas are set in pounds, the quota is filled faster with fewer individual fish.”
The bag limit this season remains two fish per person per day, Ponce said. But if recreational fishermen reach the quota before the end of the season, the season will close prematurely in federal waters.
Blouse remains optimistic.
An extended season means more 12-hour days, waking up before the sun and returning home in the dark of night. But if it means more of his clients experience the thrill of a red snapper at the end of their lines, he said it’s all worth it.