CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. — Red snapper are not often caught within South Carolina state waters, but a new law will allow anglers along the coast to take advantage of some they do encounter.
The South Carolina General Assembly recently passed legislation that allows for year-round harvest of up to two red snapper per person per day with a minimum size of 20 inches total length in state waters. The creel and size limits mirror those found in neighboring Georgia and Florida (Atlantic) state waters. The new regulations (introduced as S.980 by Senators Campsen and Goldfinch) took effect recently upon signature by Governor McMaster.
Red snapper are among the most prized fish in southeastern waters, with their mild, sweet meat a quintessential offering at seafood restaurants. They’re exceptionally long-lived, topping out at around 50 years of age and 50 pounds. Snapper occupy multiple levels of the ocean food chain, serving both as prey for large, carnivorous fish and sea turtles as well as predator to smaller fish and crustaceans.
They’re uncommon within state waters (fewer than three miles offshore), which tend to be shallower than their preferred habitat. Off the coast of South Carolina, red snapper are far more abundant in federal waters (greater than three miles offshore) and are most commonly found around hard bottom areas such as natural and artificial reefs.
Access to red snapper in federal and state waters has been limited in recent years. The species declined in southeastern waters over the last half century, and in 2010, federal officials closed the fishery to allow the overfished population to rebuild.
SCDNR surveys show that while the population of red snapper off South Carolina is increasing, most fish skew young; a sign that the population is still in the process of rebuilding.
Red snapper are especially susceptible to barotrauma, a condition that occurs when fish are brought to the surface from deep water and their internal gases expand. To counteract barotrauma and ensure more released fish survive, anglers fishing for or possessing red snapper and other “snapper/grouper” species are required to have a descending device on board. Find more information on descending devices here.
Possession of red snapper in federal waters is still prohibited outside of the occasional mini-season. NOAA Fisheries recently announced that recreational red snapper season in federal waters will next open on July 8-9, 2022. Find more information about that here.