Catch and release fishing
When Eric Schmidt called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to report a tagged red snapper, Justin Solomon in the Jacksonville office was in disbelief at what he was hearing.
“He asked me to take a picture of it because he couldn’t believe it,” Schmidt said. “It was the longest a red snapper has gone between catches, the furthest one has traveled, and first from the east coast caught on the west coast.”
Schmidt, a commercial captain based out of Fort Myers, was on a trip fishing in 287 feet of water when he landed a 38-inch red snapper but didn’t think much of it. It was part of a trio of fish from the spot that combined were over 100 pounds.
Normally out for a week at a time on commercial trips, this one was cut short after his single-engine diesel vessel was found dead in the water. He was fortunate enough to make a call for help.
“I knew someone else who was out there, about 25 miles away,” Schmidt said. “He towed us in from 107 miles. There’s not many of us single-engine diesel commercial vessels left, and it’s kind of an unwritten rule to help each other out. I would have done the same for him.”
When he got back to his catch, Schmidt noticed something interesting on one of the big red snapper he caught. It had a green tag in it, different than the yellow and orange tags he’s put in thousands of fish himself.
“I used to to do a lot with the research and tagging programs,” Schmidt said. “I’ve probably tagged a couple thousand red grouper myself. So when I saw the green I thought it was different. I called it in and they told me the fish was originally tagged April 11th, 2011, off Daytona Beach in 105 feet of water at 24 inches. I caught it west of Fort Myers, quite a trip.”
Over the course of eight years, the red snapper made the journey south through the Atlantic, around the Florida Keys and up into the Gulf of Mexico, leading the FWC office to believe it is the furthest a tagged and reported red snapper has traveled.
“They’re moving around a lot more than people think,” said Schmidt, a veteran captain of 37 years. “They’re thicker now than I have ever seen them. Back in the 80’s it was rare to see a red snapper. Now we have so many and we’re told we can only catch so few. If you told me back then we couldn’t keep them, and they’d be such a pain, I’d tell you you’re nuts.”
With the federal charter season on red snapper now open and the recreational season just over a week away, anglers will finally be allowed to take their share for the private sector. Even for Schmidt, he knows the commercial sector is hardly benefiting from the increased red snapper populations.
“I make more per pound on barracuda than I do for red snapper,” Schmidt said. “It’s a pain for us because we fish under the (individual fishing quota) program and have to lease quota for red snapper. We’re not making much money at all from it. When we run out of quota, red snapper end up costing us money.
“I could go through an entire 25-pound flat of sardines to catch a few red grouper because the red snapper are eating all the other baits. It’s obvious the management program has worked and the red snapper have rebounded. But now they’re underestimating the biomass of fish in the Gulf of Mexico.”