Mississippi’s recreational fishing season for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico will end at 11:59 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 17), which, as expected, means fishermen will reach the annual quota — 135,149 pounds — prior to the scheduled season closure of Sept. 3.

In an announcement released Tuesday afternoon, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) stated that “preliminary estimates from the Tails ’n Scales reporting system indicate the annual catch target for the private recreational fishery is projected to be reached by the weekend.”

If, however, finalized landings indicate additional harvesting is allowed, MDMR said it has the authority to reopen the season.

Mississippi’s original season was established as May 25 to Sept. 3, basically from the Memorial Day Weekend to the Labor Day Weekend. In setting that season, MDMR also announced it might close the season for a short term if it appeared the quota was in jeopardy prior to Labor Day. 

In the first year of the pilot Federal Exempt Fishing Permit, which allowed the five states of the Northern Gulf of Mexico Coast to set their seasons and monitor catches in accordance with quotas set by federal officials, Mississippi’s recreational quota was set at 135,149 pounds. In early July it was clear the quota wouldn’t last into September.

By Independence Day, fishermen had caught 82,500 pounds according to MDMR, and the season was interrupted and closed from July 8-22 in an attempt to save fish for Labor Day, the last big weekend of fishing of the summer.

MDMR instituted a 10 percent buffer, basically reducing the target catch to 121,634 pounds, according to Finfish Bureau director Matt Hill to guard against over harvest. Using the buffered quota, fishermen had less than 40,000 pounds of snapper left after the season reopened July 23.

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

“I hate it is closing, but maybe they will find enough left in the quota for us to at least have the three-day Labor Day Weekend,” said fisherman James Thompson of Gulfport. “Even if they don’t, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a single snapper fisherman on the coast who wouldn’t agree that this year, with state supervision and more opportunity, wasn’t much better than what we’ve been having in recent years under federally set seasons.”

Thompson, who said in a July story that “I think we’re going to find that the red snapper are far more plentiful than federal officials have been estimating,” stands by that prediction.

“The fish are there,” he said. “We’re proving it by catching fish.”