North Carolina Cobia and Grouper Seasons Reopen May 1
The many stay at home orders of N.C. Governor Roy Cooper, many coastal counties and coastal communities have been softening and phasing out since the middle of April. Some of the restrictions may be fully lifted and some may be extended, but May 1 currently appears to be a pivotal time for the future. The good thing in all this is that fishing has been one of the outdoor activities that has been encouraged the whole time. It was recommended that people only fish with the family or other persons they are sharing living quarters with or to be on a boat large enough to allow the social distancing required of stores, but fishing was an approved activity.
However, not everyone has their own boat and there has been some extra scrutiny on charter fishing. Some captains have continued to run the entire time, while others chose to temporarily close voluntarily. Some early discussion had the N.C. Fisheries Association issuing essential worker papers to charter operations, but they backed away from that. A call to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries directed charter captains to complete a form issued by the N.C. Department of Revenue to be classified as an essential business. Many charter operators were refused essential business status, but in their letter stating this were told they could continue to operate if they met the state’s social distancing guidelines of Executive orders 121 and 131.
Cobia season will open at 12:01 A.M. on May 1 and close again at the end of the day on December 31, 2020. The minimum size for a recreational caught cobia will be 36 inches fork length (tip of nose to the middle of the fork in the tail). The basic regulation is one cobia per person per day, but there are some caveats. From May 1 to 31 private boats may keep a maximum of 2 cobia if there are 2 or more anglers aboard. From June 1 to December 31 private boats may only keep a single cobia, regardless of the number of fishermen. For the entire June 1 to December 31 season, charter boats may keep one cobia per fisherman up to a maximum of 4 per boat.
Cobia may be caught at the individual limit of one per fishermen per day while fishing from piers and from the surf. Some piers and beaches are closed at this time, but are anticipated to be open, at least for limited use, by May 1. It would be wise to check with the pier, county or town to be sure the beaches or piers are open for business.
Grouper are regulated federally and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council oversees the Atlantic Coast of Florida northward to Cape Hatteras. The season for most of the shallow water grouper species opens at 12:01 A.M. on May 1 and continues through December 31, 2020, unless the allocation is caught and the season is closed earlier by proclamation. New for 2020 is that red grouper are not included in this opening. The red grouper season will be closed for an additional month, until 12:01 A.M. on June 1. Species included in the shallow water grouper complex include gag grouper, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, rock hind, red hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper and yellowmouth grouper.
Grouper can only be reached by boat fishermen off the N.C. Coast. This fishery relies on launching ramps and/or marinas to be open for fishermen with their own boats, plus many fishermen rely on charter fishing trips to stock their freezers with grouper. Hopefully, we will have progressed to a point where the restrictions on marinas, dry stack facilities, launching ramps, tackle stores and more will be able to be relaxed and allow fishermen easier access to the fish. The first few weeks of this season are usually very good and are expected to be even better this year as many fishermen have not been able to go and educate fish they were required to release.
Snapper and grouper complex regulations are varied and complex. They can be checked on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council website (www.safmc.net) or on the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries website (www.ncdmf.net). The basics are that it is unlawful to possess speckled hind, warsaw grouper, Nassau grouper, and goliath grouper. The minimum size for black grouper and gag grouper is 24 inches total length (tip of nose to tip of tail). The minimum size for red grouper, yellowfin (fireback) grouper, yellowmouth grouper or scamp is 20 inches total length.
It is unlawful to possess more than three (3) of the following species of groupers or tilefish in the aggregate per person per day: gag grouper, black grouper, snowy grouper, misty grouper, red grouper, scamp, rock hind, red hind, coney, graysby, yellowedge grouper, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth grouper; blueline tilefish, golden tilefish, and sand tilefish. There are also tighter restrictions for several of the individual species:
* No more than one may be a gag or black grouper (but not both) per person per day;
* No more than one golden tilefish per person per day;
* No more than one snowy grouper per vessel per day.
There are also several general regulations specific to fishing for snapper and grouper. These include:
* It is unlawful to fail to use dehooking tools in the snapper grouper fisheries when the fish is to be released;
* It is unlawful to fail to use non-stainless steel circle hooks when fishing for snapper grouper species using natural baits;
* It is unlawful to possess any species of the snapper grouper complex without heads and fins intact. The specifics of this are in the Code of Federal Regulations at 50 CFR Part §622.186.
Anglers are required to release fish in a manner that gives the highest likelihood of survival. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has identified best practices for fisherman to reduce the release mortality of red snapper and other snapper/grouper species. A list of these practices can be found in the NOAA Fishery Bulletin: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/bulletin/noaa-fisheries-announces-limited-opening-recreational-and-commercial-red-snapper.
Anglers are asked to report and log information about their recreational trips and catches through the MyFishCount electronic reporting mobile app (available for free download at the Google Play and App Store), or through the MyFishCount website www.myfishcount.com.