Mississippi’s red snapper fishermen should be excited about Friday’s opening of the state season, but there’s a little bit of weather tempering any celebrations.
A freak May tropical system is entering the southern Gulf of Mexico that should blow up high seas through the Memorial Day weekend.
“We can’t get a break, can we?” said George Thompson of Biloxi, an avid Gulf of Mexico fisherman who loves catching snapper. “We’ve been shorted on seasons, shorted on limits, and on about every other thing we could be shorted on we’ve been shorted on.
“So, we finally get a break on the season, get a longer one with an earlier start and what happens? We get a rare May tropical weather system boiling up in the Gulf and wipes out any hopes we had for the first weekend of the season. It’s not just snapper, either; it looks like we’ve lost the entire Memorial Day weekend to weather.”
The offshore forecast from the National Weather Forecast calls for a minimum 2- to 3-foot waves and building on Friday’s first day, followed by 6- to 8-foot waves through Monday. The cause is the Gulf’s first tropical weather system, called Invest 90L emerging from Mexico waters, which forecasters predict will push north and begin strengthening.
Thompson said there is a silver lining.
“The good news, if there is any, is that the changes we have this year creates a long snapper season, so we aren’t being pushed into making a bad decision and challenging the weather,” Thompson said. “My fishing buddies and I have already decided we can sit out this weekend and go next week.”
Thanks to an agreement between the five states along the Northern Gulf of Mexico and federal fisheries management officials, recreational anglers will enjoy a longer season than they’ve had in well over a decade.
It opens Friday (May 25) in both state and federal waters out to 200 nautical miles, and is projected to run through Sept. 3, Labor Day. It could close early, if at any time the assigned quota for recreational anglers or the state’s for-hire charter boats is reached or if the Gulf-wide quota is reached.
There is also a chance the season could include a “time out.” MDMR said that it is possible that the season could close between July 9-22, with the intention of insuring Mississippi’s annual quota is not met before Labor Day. It will depend on pounds caught before July 4.
Certainly the loss of this weekend will help slow the catch.
Federal officials approved Mississippi’s request for an Exempted Fishing Permit, which allows states to harvest certain requested species that otherwise would not be allowed under federal regulations. Requests were also approved for Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.
The permits will allow the Gulf States to participate in a two-year pilot program for recreational red snapper harvests based on a quota for each state. Gulf States officials said the program would allow managers in each state to gather data on red snapper, giving better accountability to harvest than how federal officials have estimated it in the past.
Mississippi’s state-managed season is for private recreational anglers and fishermen fishing with the state’s for-hire charter captains. They will be allowed to fish out to 200 nautical miles. The daily limit is two per angler per day, with a 16-inch minimum length.
There is a different season for for-hire vessels — i.e. charter boats — with federal licenses. That season is June 1 through July 21.
“This program allows Mississippi anglers more opportunity and greater flexibility to harvest red snapper,” said Matt Hill, director of MDMR’s Finfish Bureau. “It also allows the agency to closely monitor the harvest using the Tails N’ Scales Program.”
Tails N’ Scales is a mandatory reporting program. Anglers must create a profile and start a trip before going fishing for red snapper. They must have a trip number when they are out on the water. They also must report their catch within 24 hours and close out one trip before creating a new one.
Anglers caught without an authorization number will be fined, and their fish confiscated.
Tails N’ Scales is available through a smartphone app, a website and a call center. The app is available in iTunes and Google Play, and the website is tailsnscales.org. Fishermen also can call 1-844-MSSNAPP (677-6277) to speak to a representative if they don’t have access to a smartphone or computer. Anyone using the app must download the latest update before creating a trip this year.
For questions regarding the Tails N’ Scales system or to report any issues, call 228-697-5762.