Mississippi officials finally appear ready to get in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fiasco, the one that has led to the nasty situation pitting commercial fishermen against recreational fishermen, states against states and states against federal officials.
The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources has announced it will begin a voluntary red snapper reporting program for recreational fishermen when the woefully short nine-day season opens on June 1.
This program will allow agency officials to better track how many red snapper are being harvested and landed in Mississippi. Estimating the catch is at the heart of the problem that has created controversy and cost sport fishermen days of fishing.
While Texas, Louisiana and Florida have opened extra days of fishing in their state waters, Mississippi and Alabama, which have much smaller coastlines and access to deep water inside state jurisdiction, have stood by the federal seasons. Catches from the non-compliant states, however, have counted against the total catch and therefore cost Mississippi and Alabama anglers days of fishing, compared to other states.
A reporting program was popular among fishermen at a red snapper summit MDMR held May 6, at which over 100 recreational fishermen and charter boat captains attended and shared their ideas for improving data collection.
Recreational and for-hire (charter boat) fishermen will be able to go to dmr.ms.gov to submit their information about red snapper. The agency also will soon release a mobile phone app that fishermen can use to submit information.
On May 14, federal officials set the season for nine days, beginning at 12:01 a.m. June 1 and closing at 12:01 a.m. June 10. After a noticeable increase in days for 2013, the situation changed drastically this spring when commercial fishermen successfully challenged recreation catch accounting in a Washington, D.C., federal court. In response, federal marine authorities were forced to cut the season, first to 11 days and then to nine to insure a buffer that would prohibit a recreational over harvest.
At the MDMR Red Snapper Summit, anglers also said they would support development and implementation of sampling that would directly affect accuracy of red snapper stock assessment; mandatory reporting for all for-hire (charter) vessels; harvest of multiple species during red snapper season; federal legislation that would allow all Gulf states to manage red snapper out nine nautical miles; state authority to manage red snapper throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Based on the input at the summit, MDMR officials will develop formal recommendations for the Gulf Council to consider; continue to work with congressional delegates on granting authority to manage selected fisheries out to the proposed nine-mile state boundary; develop a comprehensive report from the summit that can be reviewed and considered by those at the federal level who are developing management alternatives.
"We are working at the council level and the agency level," said Jamie Miller, executive director of the MDMR. "We're looking at all options. We're having open and constant conversation about what we can do."