Fishermen on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast have been granted some relief on red snapper, and, while appreciative of the additional opportunity granted by state officials, many say it is not sufficient to offset strict federal measures.
Mississippi marine officials announced on Thursday that snapper fishing will be legal in state waters on all weekends in July, from Friday through Sunday. The limits will remain two fish per angler per day, with a minimum length of 16 inches.
Jamie Miller, the executive director of the Department of Marine Resources, made the announcement Thursday after his bosses on the Commission of Marine Resources granted him that power.
“I value the relationship we have with our federal partners,” Miller said, “but at the end of the day, our agency must do what is right for Mississippi anglers.”
Mississippi waters will be open for red snapper fishing on July 4-6, 11-13, 18-20 and 25-27. In 2012 the Mississippi Legislature approved extending state waters to nine miles south of the barrier islands for fisheries management, and the law went into effect July 1, 2013.
In an agency press release Thursday, fishermen were reminded that the federal government does not recognize this distance, and anyone possessing red snapper more than three miles south of the barrier islands could receive citations from federal and even state law enforcement officers.
Fishing between three and nine miles in Mississippi waters is at the angler’s own risk.
The problem, Mississippi fishermen say, is that even if the state recognizes the new definition of state waters — 3 leagues, 9 nautical miles or 10.35 miles south of the barrier islands — set by the 2012 state legislature, there is very little fishable water that produces snapper.
“I appreciate what the state is trying to do, but until we get federal relief, creating a state season is not the answer,” said Harvey Lynch of Biloxi. “But even out to the state-recognized boundary, which the feds will never agree to, the water is so shallow that we have very few snapper holes to fish. We have a few artificial reefs and wrecks but nowhere near what the other states have. We need to see the management of red snapper turned over to the state, get our own quota and let the state handle it.”
Johnny Marquez, executive director of the Mississippi Coastal Conservation Association, agrees.
“I am pleased that the CMR and DMR has been aggressive and taken action to give recreational anglers and the charter-for-hire sector increased opportunity following the 9-day federal season,” Marquez said. “We hope they will continue on this course and take this fight to Washington, D.C, because the Gulf Council cannot help us with the red snapper fishery and it is time for legislative action to give us regional or state management.”
Marquez added that nobody should view this as any kind of permanent fix, and alluded to the three states — Texas, Louisiana and Florida — that already have long non-compliant snapper seasons and have productive state waters their fishermen can use. All snapper caught during the regular federal season and the non-compliant, state-specific seasons count against the quota given recreational fishermen throughout the Gulf.
In other words, the snapper caught all year long in Texas and Louisiana waters and during the 42 extra days allowed in Florida take fish out of the boats from Mississippi and Alabama.
“And, it appears Alabama is going non-compliant next year, too, and if that happens and their access to the waters off of Florida, then that is going to hurt us even more,” Lynch said. “We only had a 9-day season this year and, heck, it could be completely closed next year after Alabama goes non-compliant. We’ll be screwed even worse.
“Really, you could take the 9-day season and say it was actually more like three, four or five days, because the weather was just so bad that only the big boats could go, and a lot of those were committed to the big billfish tournament the second weekend of the season.”
DMR is asking fishermen to participate in the agency’s voluntary red snapper reporting program during the July season. They can report their catch on the agency’s website, dmr.ms.gov, or fill out an information card that is available at local bait shops. Those with iPhones can download a red snapper app on iTunes.