Mississippi’s coastal fishermen are fuming over Monday’s announcement that recreational fishermen would have only a three-day season on red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
Federal fisheries management officials issued a press release that set the public’s red snapper season as opening at 12:01 a.m. on June 1 and ending at 12:01 a.m. June 4 in federal waters. The limit will be two snapper over 16 inches in length per day.
“You’re freaking kidding me,” said Tommy Gaines of Biloxi, a lifelong fisherman. “Three days … man, ain’t that a kick in the …
“Tell me, I don’t have a calendar near me, is that at least a weekend?”
Well, no, not exactly, although it does include part of one. June 1 is a Thursday and June 3 is a Saturday.
“You can bet the weather will (be bad) at least one or two of the days,” Gaines added. “We’re screwed again.”
In the same announcement, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) set the recreational charter — or, for hire — season at 49 days, opening at the same time as the recreational season and ending at 12:01 a.m. July 20.
Ricky Jackson of Pascagoula wondered about the fairness of that allocation.
“So, they’re saying, as long as I am willing to shell out $300 or $400 or even $900 to a charter captain, I can keep right on catching snapper,” Jackson said. “That’s more like a penalty, a fine, and a darn big one at that.
“How can they do that? Somebody somewhere is paying somebody else off. Got to be.”
In its statement, NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Southeast Regional Office listed its method for determining the season.
• The red snapper total recreational quota is allocated 57.7% to the private angling component and 42.3% to the for-hire component.
• In 2016, in a nine-day season, the total recreational quota was exceeded by 129,906 pounds. The private angling quota was also exceeded.
• The overage of the total recreational quota must be paid back by the private angling component because that component exceeded its quota.
• After adjustment for the 2016 overage, the 2017 annual catch target for the private angling component is 3,004,075 pounds whole weight. The 2017 annual catch target for the for-hire component is 2,278,000 pounds whole weight.
• Catches in both state and federal waters are counted against the quota. The number of days for each component to harvest its annual catch target was calculated using 2016 catch rates and accounting for the expected red snapper harvest during state seasons outside the federal season. Private anglers are expected to harvest nearly 81% of the private angling quota during state seasons that range from 67 to 365 days.
• Based on the 2017 catch targets and after accounting for landings during state seasons, the private angling season in federal waters can be 3 days and the for-hire season can be 49 days.
With snapper opportunities curtailed, fishermen are worried about where that fishing pressure will be distributed among other species.
“Want to know why our speckled trout numbers are down so bad that they cut our size limit this year, just look at the snapper and other species like triggerfish and amberjack,” said Greg Thomas of Gulfport. “They have shortened the seasons and limits on those fish and redirected pressure to our coastal fish. If this continues, essentially, we will see the entire fishery impacted.”
While Florida, Louisiana and Texas have long, and productive seasons in their territorial waters, Mississippi isn’t as fortunate. Mississippi has had seasons in recent years, but it lacks deep-water structure to form snapper banks that the other states have. Alabama is in a similar situation.
“That cheats us even more,” said Thomas. “All the fish that are caught in in-state waters in those other states take away part of our share of the catch, according to the federal formula. It isn’t right.”