For Mississippi’s coastal fishermen, this week will be a case of bad news and worse news.
The bad: The season on greater amberjacks closed at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, removing the popular — and extremely stout — sport fish from the daily haul to coincide with the federal in-season closure announced earlier after estimates pushed the catch to the allowed quota.
The worse: Three days from now, at 12:01 a.m. Thursday (Oct. 1), the commercial season on redfish opens in Mississippi’s territorial waters.
“It’s bad enough that we get shut out of the amberjacks but then to add insult to injury, they open the only remaining commercial take of redfish allowed in the Northern Gulf of Mexico,” said Gene Bourgeois of Biloxi. “When I was a deck hand on a charter boat, AJ’s (amberbacks) were one of our bread-and-butter fish, but they were far down the list below redfish, which was and remains No. 1.
“I know the federal fisheries people are behind the AJ thing, but they are not guilty on the reds. They don’t allow any redfish harvest period in federal waters. Why is Mississippi the only state that allows boats to port with commercial hauls of redfish? Every other state in the Gulf has ended the practice and many along the Atlantic Coast have as well. If they want to protect a species that has such an important role in our sport-fishing industry, then why not protect the redfish.”
In Mississippi, the daily recreational creel limit is three redfish, with a minimum total length of 18 inches. Only one fish over 30 inches may be kept. The commercial catch is subject to the same length limits.
The commercial season will close when the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources says the 35,000-pound commercial quota has been met.
“In the grand scheme of things, 35,000 pounds doesn’t sound like that much, but when you think about the implications …” Bourgeois said. “It opens the door to so many ways to beat the system. Just close it, and that’s that. The redfish will be protected throughout the Gulf.”
Here’s some interesting facts about redfish from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs:
* Red drum can live more than 40 years.
* A 35-inch female redfish is about 6 to 7 years old and may produce millions of eggs each year for another 30 years.
* Red drum are opportunistic feeders and have been known to eat sand dollars, small nutria, snakes, turtles and ducklings.
* Mature female redfish are seldom found in Mississippi waters north of the barrier islands.
* Redfish tolerate salinity from freshwater to levels higher than the open Gulf of Mexico.
* Redfish often have more than one spot per side. However, a red drum with no spots at all is extremely rare.