With the opening day of the red snapper season still over a week away, Mississippi fishermen have already hooked a surprise catch.
NOAA Fisheries, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced yesterday that it was extending the 2013 red snapper season in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The recreational season opens June 1 in federal waters, which begin three nautical miles off of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana and nine nautical miles off of Florida and Texas. Mississippi, as well as Alabama, will have a 34-day season instead of the perviously announced 28. Mississippi’s season will end on Independence Day, July 4 (officially at 12:01 a.m. July 5), and the daily limit remains two fish at least 16 inches in length per person, an official with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources confirmed Friday morning. “At least,” the DMR source said, “that’s where it stands right now. It could change, depending on two lawsuits that have been filed and one involving Texas and Louisiana challenging NOAA’s legal authority to shorten the federal season because they have state seasons; (they) will be heard May 30 in Brownsville, Texas. The other is a suit filed on behalf of captains with a federal reef fishing permit, challenging the decision that they are only allowed to fish during the (federal season).” Since the entire fisheries is based on a quota system, the source said, if either one of the suits is successful and more time is allowed in other states, then Mississippi’s season will likely be shortened. The changes came after Louisiana and Texas produced new recreational fishing harvest data, which federal officials studied and accepted, according to a press release from NOAA. NOAA Fisheries also raised the total allowable catch from 8 million pounds to nearly 8.5 million pounds, with 51 percent of that TAC going to commercial boats and the rest being allocated to anglers. “Obviously, this is good news, but I am still disappointed with the season length and limits,” said Tommy O’Bryan of Biloxi, a former deckhand on a charter fishing boat that targeted snapper. After losing his job due to the cutbacks, he now fishes recreationally and occasionally hires out in a deckhand role to private boat owners. “I am glad that Louisiana and Texas challenged the feds, and produced some hard numbers that got some attention,” O’Bryan said. “We’ve always said we knew there was a problem with declining snapper stocks, but not to the degree that (NOAA) said. “We questioned their information-gathering process, both on harvest and on fish populations. Seems we were right.” Florida, Louisiana and Texas, also received extensions, but still will have shorter seasons in federal waters because each has opted to have red snapper seasons in their state waters. The variances in federal waters are designed to give anglers across the Gulf an equal chance at red snapper, federal regulators have said. Louisiana may be the biggest winner in Thursday’s announcement, with its season in federal waters extended from nine to 24 days. That’s also good news for Mississippi fishermen, many of which fish in Louisiana waters. Louisiana has an 88-day weekends-only season in state waters, with a three-fish limit. The season started March 23 and runs through September. Anglers off Texas, where they can catch up to four red snapper a day year-round in state waters, will have 17 days in federal waters rather than 12. Off Florida, where state waters are open for 44 days starting June 1 with a two-fish bag limit, the season in federal waters will be 26 days instead of 21.