Direct observation of fishing effort, catch, and discard rates of charter boats targeting reef fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico


Garner, Steven B., and William F. Patterson
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Fishing activities on charter boats that targeted reef fishes were documented by observers in 2012 and 2013 to examine the effect of fishing season (open versus closed) for red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) on fishing effort, catch, and discard variables. During 54 trips of charter boats with observers, 38 species of fishes were identified; 32 trips were taken during red snapper open seasons and 22 trips were taken during closed seasons. The majority of the catch and discards comprised lutjanids but also included small demersal reef fishes, highly migratory pelagic fishes, and elasmobranchs. Boat captains targeted artificial reefs at depths <40 m with red snapper abundances that were higher and species diversity that was lower during open seasons than the abundances and diversity found at deeper natural reefs that were fished during closed seasons. On closed-season trips, distance from shore, number of sites fished, and time fished per site were greater, whereas the number of fishermen was significantly lower than the number on open-season trips. The number, size, and proportion of red snapper caught were significantly greater during open-season trips than during closed seasons, but the number of red snapper discards was not significantly different between seasons. This study supports the use of onboard observer programs for the collection of accurate and reliable catch, effort, and discard data regarding the recreational for-hire sector, and for identifying changes in fishing strategies and behavior between closed and open seasons for the red snapper fishery in the northern Gulf of Mexico.