Mississippi’s recreational fishermen have been very successful at catching red snapper this summer — 82,500 pounds, state officials say — but that is proving to be both good and bad news for anglers.

It’s good that the stocks appear strong, but it’s bad in how it could impact the May 25-Sept. 3 season. The season is already in the midst of a two-week interruption July 8-22 targeted to prevent an early closure that would cost anglers the Labor Day weekend.

However, a premature closure is more than possibility; it seems likely.

According to information provided by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the season will close when the state’s recreational quota is met, or when the Gulf-wide recreational quota is met, or on Sept. 3.

Mississippi’s recreational quota is 135,149 pounds, but DMR has instituted a 10 percent buffer, basically reducing the target catch to 121,634 pounds, according to Finfish Bureau director Matt Hill.

“When this amount is harvested we will recommend the season closes,” Hill wrote in an email response to questions from Mississippi Sportsman. “The target allows us to stay within the quota when additional pounds added due to non-compliance, misreporting, and late reporting are calculated.”

Hill indicated in the email that Mississippi fishermen had reported a total catch of 82,500 pounds between when the season opened May 25 and the interruption on July 8. The amount is monitored closely through the agency’s mandatory Tails n’ Scales trip reporting system, which recently gained federal approval

Using the buffered quota of 121,634 pounds, that leaves fishermen less than 40,000 pounds for the remainder of the season (July 23-Sept. 3), once it reopens. 

Since Mississippi anglers caught twice that much in the first seven weeks, it becomes obvious the season could close well before the popular Labor Day weekend.

This is the first year in a Gulf-wide program that transfers management and catch assessment more into the hands of state officials instead of federal fisheries management agencies. States say they can produce real catch numbers, far more accurate than the federal estimates of the past. This has provided fishermen with more opportunity.

“Even if they do have to close the season early, we’re better off with what we had this year than anything we’ve had in the past decade,” said fisherman James Thompson of Gulfport. “I’ve already been on six trips with friends this year, and we have a few more planned after it opens. The six I’ve already made is double the amount I made in any of the last eight or nine years.”

Thompson said he hopes that the new system will lead to increased opportunities, not so much in days allowed but in the daily catches.

“I think we’re going to find that the red snapper are far more plentiful than federal officials have been estimating,” he said. “I’d love to see them up the limit from two to either four or five per day. Even if it costs us a week or two of the season, I’d prefer the higher limit. It is so expensive to make a trip to just catch two fish. I’d much rather pay the same, catch twice as many and just cut back on my trips.”